politics

The body of football journalist Grant Wahl returned to the United States

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Among Grant Wahl’s mourners is Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a football fan who attended an American game at the start of the tournament. Blinken shared his thoughts as many in the group struggled to understand the circumstances of Wahl’s death, which was first reported on Friday. Wahl was in his late forties.

“I so enjoyed Grant Wahl, whose writing captured not only the essence of the beautiful game but also the world around it,” Blinken wrote on Twitter. “I send my deepest condolences to this family and thank our Embassy team and our Qatari partners who worked together so effectively to fulfill their wishes.”

Wahl was one of America’s most prominent football columnists, and he was also an advocate for the LGBTQ community in large part because his brother is gay. This has caused friction in Qatar, which has laws against homosexuality and where fans have been harassed for expressions of LGBTQ pride. Wahl wrote that he was temporarily denied entry to a game last month for wearing a shirt with a rainbow on it.

days ahead his collapse in a stadium, Wahl had complained of feeling sick and having chest pains. He wrote that he went to a medical clinic, was told he might have bronchitis and was given antibiotics and cough syrup. Wahl, who covered the World Cup for his own website, also noted that he had weeks of little sleep and high stress.

Yet within hours of Wahl’s death, his brother, Eric, raised suspicions of foul play, claiming that Wahl had received death threats, possibly because of his LGBTQ advocacy. But Eric also later admitted that his brother was feeling sick.

US officials have avoided commenting publicly on what caused Wahl’s death.

Blinken, however, used the opportunity of the World Cup to talk about how football can be a diplomatic tool given its popularity around the world. The Secretary of State spent his teenage years in France and grew up to love sport, despite describing himself as a “mediocre” player.

The selection of Qatar, a small Middle Eastern country with conservative Muslim roots, to host this year’s World Cup has long been criticized by human rights campaigners. The country’s use and abuse of migrant workers to build its World Cup infrastructure has been a flashpoint, as have its government’s views on LGBTQ issues.

But Qatar has also proven to be a critical partner of the United States in recent years, including helping America evacuate tens of thousands of Afghans after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.

Far from fleeing Qatar, Blinken traveled to the country for a match between the United States and Wales, which coincided with a session of the ongoing US-Qatari Strategic Dialogue, a diplomatic initiative.

In an interview with The AtlanticBlinken pointed out that the United States regularly discusses human rights with Qatar and that the country has made progress in this area.

“We have seen them step up their efforts to investigate, prosecute, [and] to convict labor traffickers,” he noted. “We have seen them increase their resources for this. They have a police unit that specializes in trafficking. They reinforced that.

Qatari officials have expressed their condolences on Wahl’s passing, as did a range of football officials around the world. The loss was particularly felt by fans of women’s soccer given that Wahl championed that aspect of the sport.

Qatari photojournalist Khalid al-Misslam also died on Sunday while covering the tournament. His newspaper, the Gulf Times, said he died “suddenly”. The circumstances of his death are unclear.

Matt Berg contributed to this report.

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