AL KHOR, Qatar —
Two dozen flowers and a famed photograph of soccer journalist Grant Wahl were placed in section 506, desk 305, seat A — Wahl’s assigned seat — high above the sideline at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor ahead of Saturday’s France-England game.
Wahl, 48, collapsed during an Argentina-versus-Netherlands match and died early Saturday, prompting inquiries into the cause of his death and tributes around the world.
A FIFA official in a blue suit and tie stood near Wahl’s assigned seat Saturday, as if to guard the shrine.
“It was the least we could do,” he said.
FIFA released a statement offering condolences to Wahl’s wife, infectious disease specialist Dr. Céline Gounder, and others who knew him.
“Tonight we pay tribute to Grant Wahl at his assigned seat in Al Bayt Stadium. He should have been here,” FIFA’s statement read. “Our thoughts remain with his wife Céline, his family, and his friends at this most difficult time.”
An endless parade of photographers, journalists, FIFA officials and tournament volunteers made the long climb to the top of the media tribune to pay their respects and take photos of their own.
Another tribute appeared on the stadium’s two massive scoreboards pregame, with announcements of condolences in English and Arabic. Journalists from Poland, Canada and elsewhere stopped by to express their sympathy, offer hugs to Wahl’s American colleagues or simply to ask questions about him.
“What was he like?” some would ask. “I knew him well,” others would say.
Wahl, best known for decades of award-winning work at Sports Illustrated, was working as an independent journalist covering his eighth World Cup. He was a fierce advocate for the beautiful game and underrepresented communities.
He contributed to Fox’s soccer coverage and the network also honored Wahl during its match coverage Saturday.
Los Angeles Times staff were among the journalists who watched paramedics treat Wahl for approximately 30 minutes after his collapse in the media tribune late Friday before removing him from the stadium on a stretcher. The World Cup organizing committee told the Associated Press he was transported by ambulance to Doha’s Hamad General Hospital and was pronounced dead. No cause has been announced. “We are in touch with the US Embassy and relevant local authorities to ensure the process of repatriating the body is in accordance with the family’s wishes,” the World Cup organizing committee told the AP in a statement.
Wahl wrote on his website and spoke on his podcast about feeling ill during the last week.
“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.”
He was detained briefly for wearing a rainbow, pro-LGBTQ T-shirt to a match earlier in the tournament and reported extensively about human rights issues in Qatar, including the death of migrant workers who built World Cup stadiums. The work amplified questions about the cause of his death.
State Department spokesman Ned Price posted a statement on Twitter that read, in part: “We are engaged with senior Qatari officials to see to it that his family’s wishes are fulfilled as expeditiously as possible.”
The tributes during the England-France match added to an outpouring of love for Wahl’s impact.
In a statement, U.S. Soccer called his work “insightful and entertaining” and praised his devotion to the sport.
Here are some highlights of what athletes, teams and sports journalists had to say about Wahl: