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Grant Wahl, Soccer Journalist and LGBTQ+ Ally, Dies at World Cup

Grant Wahl
Photo by Doug Zimmerman/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Wahl, who has a gay brother, had been blocked from entering one World Cup match because he was wearing a rainbow T-shirt.

Soccer journalist Grant Wahl, an LGBTQ+ ally who was briefly detained by security at a World Cup match in Qatar for wearing a shirt with a rainbow on it, died Friday.

The cause of death has not been reported. Wahl had been ill recently but had also received death threats because of his criticism of Qatar's human rights record. He collapsed during the Argentina-Netherlands semifinal match at the World Cup and died shortly thereafter, either at a hospital or on the way to one, major media sources report. He was 48. The U.S. Soccer Federation confirmed his death and posted a statement on Twitter.

His wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, tweeted as well. She is an epidemiologist who served on President Joe Biden's COVID-19 Advisory Board during his transition period.

Wahl had worked for Sports Illustrated from 1996 to 2020, initially covering basketball and other sports in addition to soccer. But eventually soccer, his passion, became his sole focus. He went freelance in 2020 and contributed to outlets including NPR, Fox Sports, and CBS, and he had a column on Substack.

He had spoken out against Qatar's human rights record, which has come under international scrutiny with its hosting of the World Cup. There are criminal penalties for being gay, women are oppressed, and migrant workers are often mistreated.

He was stopped from entering a U.S.-Wales match in November because of the rainbow shirt. He tweeted that a guard told him, "You have to change your shirt. It's not allowed." He was detained briefly, he said. He was eventually allowed in.

Wahl had been ill with a respiratory ailment for several days. "My body finally broke down on me," he wrote Monday on Substack. "Three weeks of little sleep, high stress and lots of work can do that to you ... 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."

Eric Wahl, his brother, told NPR the journalist had received death threats because of his criticism of Qatar and of FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, as well as the rainbow shirt. Grant wore the shirt partly in support of Eric, who is gay. Eric posted a video to Instagram alleging foul play in his brother's death, several sources report, but the video is now unavailable.

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