“Every once in a while, you hear the keen edge of panic in someone’s voice and know that death and his friends are nearby,” London Sunday Times reporter Josh Glancy chillingly recalled about the sudden death at the World Cup of Grant Wahl, “probably the best known” soccer writer in America.
Glancy was transfixed at the time, along with a horde of other sports writers, by the edge-of-your-seat Dutch soccer battle against Argentina in Doha, Qatar, early Saturday.
But then a “panicked voice” called out from the press box, yelling: “We need a medic!” Glancy recounted in the Times Saturday.
“We all turned around to see a man in terrifying distress just behind us, clearly suffering some form of attack or seizure. We bellowed for a medic,” Glancy wrote.
Keir Radnedge, a columnist at World Soccer Magazine, told CNN that colleagues near him began shouting for medical assistance after Wahl, 48, collapsed. Chairs were moved to make space for Wahl so medics could help him, he recalled.
Medics quickly arrived, and Glancy said he was “momentarily reassured,” hoping it was merely a fleeting seizure or an allergic reaction to something. But when they began administering CPR, indicating Wahl’s heart had stopped, the entire press box was “gripped with anxiety,” Glancy recounted.
A journalist with first aid training and two medics continued to take turns to pump Wahl’s chest, he said. Two New York Times journalists who were on the scene said medics performed chest compressions and other treatment for about 20 minutes before Wahl was taken out of Doha’s Lusail Iconic Stadium.
Shockingly, there was no defibrillator to use, Glancy said. “Why wasn’t there a defibrillator? That was the question we kept asking each other, as the medics pumped and pumped to no avail,” Glancy wrote.
Wahl’s friends from different parts of the press box gathered around him. One of them, soccer journalist Guillem Balague, muttered: “This isn’t real.”
Eventually Wahl, his face covered, was taken away on a stretcher. Just minutes earlier, he’d been laughing and tweeting excitedly about the game.
“Godspeed, my friend,” Balague tweeted later. “If I get asked what journalism is, I’ll say your name. Your loyalty, sense of humor, affection, your dress code! will never be forgotten,” he added, referring to a rainbow shirt Wahl wore that angered Qatar authorities.
“You have been taken from us far too early,” Balague added. “There was still so much to write, live and discuss.”
The cause of death has not yet been determined. Wahl had reportedly complained for days about not feeling well and having trouble sleeping.
Wahl was a soccer analyst for CBS Sports and a longtime reporter for Sports Illustrated. He was an outspoken critic of Qatar and its oppression of the LGBTQ community. He posted a photo of himself outside the United States’ game against Wales in a rainbow flag T-shirt — for which he was briefly detained. He said his phone was “ripped” from his hands by a guard and he was told to remove his shirt. Same-sex relationships are illegal in Qatar.
Family, friends, colleagues and sports fans were devastated by Wahl’s death.
“The entire U.S. soccer family is heartbroken to learn that we have lost Grant Wahl,” said an unsigned statement from the United States Soccer Federation. “His writing and the stories he told will live on.”