Friday night, the sports world was shocked and saddened by the news that journalist Grant Wahl had died while covering the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The 49-year-old’s passing sent shockwaves through the soccer world and beyond as his colleagues and longtime readers tried to make sense of the situation.
Given Wahl’s actions in defense of LGBTQIA+ rights as well as his writing about the deplorable conditions for migrant workers in Qatar, it was too easy for speculation to run wild while details about his final moments remained sparse.
As more details have emerged about what happened to Wahl and how he was feeling in the days leading up to his passing, it’s hard to know if there will ever be a satisfactory conclusion in the minds of many.
“My body finally broke down on me. Three weeks of little sleep, high stress, and lots of work can do that to you,” Wahl wrote. “What had been a cold over the last 10 days turned into something more severe on the night of the USA-Netherlands game, and I could feel my upper chest take on a new level of pressure and discomfort.
“I didn’t have Covid (I test regularly here), but I went into the medical clinic at the main media center today, and they said I probably have bronchitis. They gave me a course of antibiotics and some heavy-duty cough syrup, and I’m already feeling a bit better just a few hours later. But still: No bueno.”
Wahl discussed his ongoing health issues again on Thursday on his podcast.
“I basically canceled everything on this Thursday that I had, and napped and I’m doing slightly better that you can probably tell in my voice that I’m not at it at 100 percent here,” he said. “Hopefully I will not cough during this podcast. I’m coughing a lot. Everyone’s coughing here in like this is by no means limited to me like so many journalists have got a crazy cough. It sounds like a death rattle sometimes.
“The only thing that’s surprising to me actually is there isn’t that much COVID here. I thought there might be a real issue with that. We’re not really seeing COVID cases. We’re just seeing a lot of general sickness, coughing, colds, and I can’t wait to be on the other side of what I have. But I am going to be ready to go. I’m attending on Friday.”
Wahl’s agent, Tim Scanlan, confirmed to the New York Times that the reporter had been having trouble sleeping.
“He wasn’t sleeping well, and I asked him if he tried melatonin or anything like,” Scanlan said. “He said, ‘I just need to like relax for a bit.’”
Wahl covered Friday’s Argentina-Netherlands match as normal and his final tweet came towards the very end of regulation when the Netherlands tied things up at 2. He did not tweet again about the extra time and shootout.
As ESPN notes, it was around this time that several media members saw Wahl fall back in his seat in the Lusail Iconic Stadium press box. According to the New York Times, medical professionals performed chest compressions and other treatments for around 20 minutes until he was taken to a hospital, where he died either in transport or at the hospital.
“I’m in shock. I was sitting next to him tonight. He was working on his story on his laptop, it was about 4 minutes before the end of the extra time,” journalist Rafael Cores said in a tweet. “He was laughing at a joke we saw on Twitter only minutes earlier. I can’t believe it. My deepest condolences to Grant Wahl’s family.”
It has been reported that he was taken to the hospital in an Uber, leading to speculation about why there wasn’t an ambulance ready to go at a major sporting event (The Qatari government says in a statement that he was transported by ambulance). There has also been speculation about a lack of medical equipment in the billion-dollar stadium press box, including a defibrillator.
From a witness in the press box who asks: "Why wasn’t there a defibrillator? That was the question we kept asking each other, as the medics pumped and pumped to no avail. At this billion dollar state-of-the-art stadium…" https://t.co/BKSRLXZT99
— Bob Williams (@WilliamsBob75) December 10, 2022
As Wahl’s family and others continue to gather facts about his condition and what happened in the moments surrounding his death, it’s hard for many not to think of Wahl’s run-in with stadium security after he showed up wearing a rainbow-colored T-shirt, in defiance of Qatar’s criminalization of those who identify as LGBTQIA+.
In the interim, State Department spokesperson Ned Price tweeted Friday night that the U.S. is “engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible.”
We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Grant Wahl and send our condolences to his family, with whom we have been in close communication. We are engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible.
— Ned Price (@StateDeptSpox) December 10, 2022
Just as Wahl wouldn’t have let the story go until finding out everything, we expect that other journalists will be picking up that mantle in order to provide as much clarity as possible about this tragedy.