Even before this year’s World Cup began, a sense of tragedy surrounded the proceedings — made especially tangible by the thousands of migrant workers’ deaths that had taken place in the lead-up to this fall’s competition. Now, another heartbreaking death has taken place at the World Cup in Qatar — noted journalist Grant Wahl, who collapsed while watching Friday’s match between the Netherlands and Argentina.
According to the Associated Press’s report, Wahl fell ill in the press area at Lusail Iconic Stadium, and emergency services was summoned. Earlier in the week, Wahl had written about feeling ill, but noted that he had visited a medical clinic, where he received antibiotics, and had tested negative for COVID-19. He turned 49 earlier in the week.
Wahl had been reporting on the conditions for migrant workers during the World Cup, and was briefly detained for wearing a rainbow shirt to a match early in the tournament. Wahl’s brother Eric raised questions about the circumstances of Wahl’s death in a since-deleted Instagram video, in which he said that Wahl “told me he received death threats.”
In the wake of the news, tributes to Wahl emerged from all parts of the soccer world — from players to coaches, commissioners to supporters groups, fans to colleagues. (Another figure who weighed in was an athlete who Wahl had written about when he was primarily covering college basketball — one LeBron James.) The breadth of the reactions spoke volumes about Wahl’s work and his importance to the sport. What was especially bittersweet about them was that they were happening at all.
As mentioned earlier, Wahl had been especially critical of Qatar’s handling of the World Cup and its government’s treatment of workers. In what would be his final article published on his Substack, Wahl — as the saying goes — spoke truth to power. “They just don’t care,” he wrote in the opening paragraphs. “The Supreme Committee in charge of Qatar’s World Cup doesn’t care that a Filipino migrant worker died at Saudi Arabia’s training resort during the group stage.” His tone didn’t back down from there.
The New York Times reports that the U.S. State Department has been in contact with their counterparts in Qatar in the wake of Wahl’s death. “We are engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible,” they wrote.