Why Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia means so much for the Gulf monarchy’s sporting ambitions | CNN

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Abu Dhabi, UAE
CNN
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It’s a partnership that’s been hailed as “history in the making.”

One of the world’s most famous soccer stars landed in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Tuesday, where Cristiano Ronaldo was received in an extravagant ceremony, with excited children sporting his new club’s yellow and blue jerseys.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia’s success in luring the five-time Ballon d’Or winner on a two-year contract with the kingdom’s Al Nassr FC is the Gulf monarchy’s latest step in realizing its sporting ambitions – seemingly at any cost.

According to Saudi state-owned media, Ronaldo will earn an estimated $200 million a year with Al Nassr, making him the world’s highest-paid soccer player.

Shortly after the 37-year-old’s signing with Al Nassr, the club’s Instagram page gained over 5.3 million new followers. Its official website was inaccessible after exceeding its bandwidth limit due to the sudden surge in traffic, and the hashtag #HalaRonaldo – Hello, Ronaldo in Arabic – was trending for days across the Middle East on Twitter.

Analysts say that his recruitment in Saudi Arabia is part of a wider effort by the kingdom to diversify its sources of revenue and become a serious player in the international sporting scene.

It is also seen as a move by the kingdom to shore up its image after it was tarnished by the 2018 dismemberment and killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents, and a devastating war it started in Yemen in 2015.

Critics have decried the kingdom for “sportswashing,” an attempt to burnish one’s reputation through sport.

“I think Saudi Arabia has recognized a couple of years ago that to be a powerful nation internationally, you cannot just rely on hard power,” Danyel Reiche, a visiting research fellow and associate professor at Georgetown University Qatar, told CNN.

“You also need to invest in soft power, and the case of Qatar shows that this can work pretty well,” he said, adding that Saudi Arabia is following in the Qatari approach with sport, but with a delay of around 25 years.

Neighboring Qatar has also faced immense criticism since it won the bid to hosting last year’s FIFA World Cup in 2010.

Despite the smaller Gulf state facing similar accusations of “sportswashing,” the tournament has largely been viewed as a success, not least in exposing the world to a different view of the Middle East, thanks in part to Morocco’s success in reaching the semifinals and Saudi Arabia beating eventual World Cup champion Argentina in their opening group game.

Gulf nations engage in fierce competition to become the region’s premier entertainment and sporting hubs. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, in close proximity to each other, each have their own Formula One racing event. But their competition hasn’t been confined to the region. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also bought trophy European soccer teams.

Riyadh is playing catchup with neighbors who have long realized the importance of investing in sports, said Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economy at SKEMA Business School in Lille, France, especially as its main source of income – oil – is being gradually shunned.

“This is part of an ongoing attempt to create more resilient economies that are more broadly based upon industries other than those that are derived from oil and gas,” Chadwick told CNN.

Ronaldo’s new club Al Nassr is backed by Qiddiya Investment Company (QIC), a subsidiary of the kingdom’s wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which has played a pivotal role in Saudi Arabia’s diversification plans.

“It is also a sign of interconnectedness, of globalization and of opening up to the rest of the world,” said Georgetown University’s Reiche.

The move is part of “several recent high profile moves in the sports world, including hosting the Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua world heavywight boxing championship bout in 2019, and launching the LIV Golf championship,” said Omar Al-Ubaydli, director of research at the Bahrain-based Derasat think tank. “It is a significant piece of a large puzzle that represents their economic restructuring.”

The kingdom has been on a path to not only diversify its economy, but also shift its image amid a barrage of criticism over its human rights record and treatment of women. Saudi Arabia is today hosting everything from desert raves to teaming up with renowned soccer players. Argentina’s Lionel Messi last year signed a lucrative promotional deal with the kingdom.

Hailed as the world’s greatest player, 35-year-old Messi ended this year’s World Cup tournament in Qatar with his team’s win over France, making his ambassadorship of even greater value to the kingdom.

The acquisition of such key global figures will also help combat the monarchy’s decades-long reputation of being “secretive” and “ultra-conservative,” James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and an expert on soccer in the Middle East, told CNN’s Eleni Giokos on Wednesday.

Al-Ubaydli said that the kingdom wants to use high profile international sports “as a vehicle for advertising to the world its openness.”

Saudi Arabia bought the English Premier league club Newcastle United in 2021 through a three-party consortium, with PIF being the largest stakeholder. The move proved controversial, as Amnesty International and other human rights defenders worried it would overshadow the kingdom’s human rights violations.

Ronaldo’s work with Saudi Arabia is already being criticized by rights groups who are urging the soccer player to “draw attention to human rights issues” in Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia has an image problem,” especially since Khashoggi’s killing, says Reiche. But the kingdom’s recent investments in sports and entertainment are “not about sportswashing but about developing the country, social change and opening up to the world.”

Saudi Arabia is reportedly weighing a 2030 World Cup bid with Egypt and Greece, but the kingdom’s tourism ministry noted in November that it has not yet submitted an official bid. Chadwick believes that Ronaldo’s deal with Al Nassr, however, may help boost the kingdom’s bid should it choose it pursue it.

Another way Saudi Arabia may benefit from Ronaldo’s acquisition is that it will be able to improve commercial performance, says Chadwick, especially if this collaboration attracts further international talent.

“It is important to see Ronaldo not just as a geopolitical instrument,” said Chadwick, “There is still a commercial component to him and to the purpose he is expected to serve in Saudi Arabia.”

What Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia shows is that the kingdom aspires “to be seen as being the best” and that it wants to be perceived as a “contender and a legitimate member of the international football community,” said Chadwick.

UAE FM meets Syria’s Assad in Damascus in further sign of thawing ties

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad received the United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed in Damascus on Wednesday in the latest sign of thawing relations between Assad and the Gulf state. The meeting addressed developments in Syria and the wider Middle East, according to UAE state news agency WAM.

  • Background: It was Abdullah bin Zayed’s first visit since a November 2021 meeting with Assad that led to the resumption of relations. Months later, in March 2022, Assad visited the UAE, his first visit to an Arab state since the start of Syria’s civil war.
  • Why it matters: A number of Assad’s former foes have been trying to mend fences with his regime. Last week, talks between the Syrian and Turkish defense ministers were held in Moscow in the highest-level encounter reported between the estranged sides since the war in Syria began. The regional rapprochement is yet to improve the lives of average Syrians. Syria is still under Western sanctions.

Turkish President Erdogan says he could meet with Assad

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech on Thursday that he could meet the Syrian leader “to establish peace.”

  • Background: Erdogan’s comments came after the Moscow talks between the two nations’ defense ministers and intelligence chiefs. “Following this meeting… we will bring our foreign ministers together. And after that, as leaders, we will come together,” Erdogan said on Thursday.
  • Why it matters: The meeting would mark a dramatic shift in Turkey’s decade-long stance on Syria, where Ankara was the prime supporter of political and armed factions fighting to topple Assad. The Turkish military maintains a presence across the Syrian border and within northern Syria, where it backs Syrian opposition forces. Erdogan has also pledged to launch yet another incursion into northern Syria, aiming at creating a 30-km (20-mile) deep “safe zone” that would be emptied of Kurdish fighters.

Iran shuts down French cultural center over Charlie Hebdo’s Khamenei cartoons

Iran announced on Thursday it had ended the activities of a Tehran-based French research institute, in reaction to cartoons mocking Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and fellow Shia Muslim clerics published by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo this week.

  • Background: Iran summoned the French ambassador to Tehran on Wednesday to protest cartoons published by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. More than 30 cartoons poking fun at Iran’s supreme leader were published by the magazine on Wednesday, in a show of support for the Iranian people who have been protesting the Islamic Republic’s government and its policies.
  • Why it matters: French-Iranian relations have deteriorated significantly since protests broke out in Iran late last year. Paris has publicly supported the protests and spoken out against Iran’s response to them. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna criticized Iran’s freedom of press and judicial independence on Thursday, saying “press freedom exists, contrary to what is going on in Iran and… it is exercised under the supervision of a judge in an independent judiciary – and there too it’s something that Iran knows little of.”

The prized legacy of iconic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum re-emerged this year when Rolling Stone magazine featured her in its “200 Greatest Singers of All Time.”

Ranking 61st, Umm Kulthum was the only Arab artist to make it to the list, with the magazine saying that she “has no real equivalent among singers in the West.”

Born in a small village northeast of the Egyptian capital Cairo, Umm Kulthum rose to unmatched fame as she came to represent “the soul of the pan-Arab world,” the music magazine said.

“Her potent contralto, which could blur gender in its lower register, conveyed breathtaking emotional range in complex songs that, across theme and wildly-ornamented variations, could easily last an hour, as she worked crowds like a fiery preacher,” it wrote.

Nicknamed “the lady of Arab singing,” her music featured both classical Arabic poetry as well as colloquial songs still adored by younger generations. Her most famous pieces include “Inta Uumri” (you are my life), “Alf Leila Weileila” (a thousand and one nights), “Amal Hayati” (hope of my life) and “Daret al-Ayyam” (the days have come around). Some of her songs have been remixed to modern beats that have made their way to Middle Eastern nightclubs.

The singer remains an unmatched voice across the Arab World and her music can still be heard in many traditional coffee shops in Old Cairo’s neighborhoods and other parts of the Arab world.

Umm Kulthum’s death in 1975 brought millions of mourners to the streets of Cairo.

By Nadeen Ebrahim

Women athletes aim their air rifles while competing in a local shooting championship in Yemen's Houthi rebel-held capital Sanaa on January 3.



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The year in sport: A fond farewell for some, a glimpse of the future for others | CNN



CNN
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An athlete, former jockey AP McCoy said earlier this year, is the only person who dies twice, such is the pain of walking away from the intoxicating, all-consuming nature of professional sport.

McCoy retired from his long, decorated racing career in 2015, and since then has had to learn, in his own words, how to “start again and have another life.”

Based on the past 12 months, there are some notable sports stars who might have been listening extra closely to McCoy’s experience of retirement – or indeed to anyone else who has spoken candidly about the difficulty of ending a successful sporting career.

Among them is Roger Federer, who called time on his trophy-laden tennis career at the Laver Cup in September after years spent trying to recover from two knee surgeries.

In the letter announcing his retirement, Federer, like McCoy, alluded to the heightened emotions of being a professional athlete and how they make saying goodbye so hard.

“I have laughed and cried, felt joy and pain, and most of all I have felt incredibly alive,” Federer wrote. “To the game of tennis,” he signed off the letter, “I love you and will never leave you.”

Those final words were reassuring for fans who have admired Federer’s career for so many years, but also spoke to another issue: namely, of how hard it can be to walk away entirely from professional sport after retirement.

It remains to be seen exactly how Federer will remain involved in tennis moving forward, and the same can be said of Serena Williams, who announced she would “evolve away from tennis” ahead of this year’s US Open – but refused to say she was retiring.

On several occasions over the past three months, the 23-time grand slam champion has even teased fans about a potential return to tennis.

At the 2022 US Open, Serena Williams lost to Australian Ajla Tomlijanovic in the third round.

While Federer and Williams have stepped away from their careers as two of the greatest athletes of all time, other sports stars can’t seem to decide when, or how, to walk away.

Heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury has yo-yoed in and out of retirement this year, saying in October that he’s finding it “really hard to let this thing go.”

And earlier this year, Tom Brady announced he would be retiring from the NFL, leaving the sport as a seven-time Super Bowl champion and arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. the 45-year-old then reversed that decision and is still breaking records with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during his 23rd season in the NFL.

However in September, Brady and Gisele Bündchen announced they were to divorce after 13 years of marriage.

“I think there is a lot of professionals in life that go through things that they deal with at work and they deal with at home,” the Bucs quarterback said on his weekly podcast a few days the couple’s divorce announcement.

“Obviously, the good news is it’s a very amicable situation, and I’m really focused on two things: taking care of my family, and certainly my children, and secondly doing the best job I can to win football games. That’s what professionals do.”

Tom Brady flip-flopped on retiring.

Brady has redefined what most believed to be the average shelf-life of an athlete, and he’s not the only person refusing to let the light dim on his career.

LeBron James is about to turn 38 but is still setting records in the NBA – in February passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most combined regular season and postseason points in NBA history.

Federer’s rivals Rafael Nadal, 36, and Novak Djokovic, 35, meanwhile, have added to their grand slam tallies this year – the Mallorcan at the Australian Open and French Open, where he became the oldest men’s singles champion, and the Serbian at Wimbledon. Djokovic’s Wimbledon triumph moved him to within one grand slam title of Nadal’s men’s record of 22.

Having been deported from Australia over his vaccination status at the start of the year, Djokovic is set to compete at the Australian Open at the start of 2023 – a tournament he has won on nine previous occasions and is favorite to win again next year off the back of his recent ATP Finals victory.

For Nadal, his future in the sport rests on the amount of strain his injury-ravaged body can continue to withstand.

In golf, Tiger Woods faces similar questions. The 15-time major champion completed a stunning return from serious leg injuries suffered in a car crash at this year’s Masters, scoring a remarkable one-under 71 at Augusta National before making the cut the following day.

Then there’s sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who turns 36 later this month but has shown no signs of slowing down. The Jamaican produced a string of consistently fast performances this year, running under 10.7 seconds for the 100 meters a record seven times and claiming her fifth world championship title over the distance in July.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce celebrates winning the women's 100m final at the World Athletics Championships in  Eugene, Oregon, in July.

And it’s not just athletes who have defied the call of retirement this year. In November, 73-year-old Dusty Baker became the oldest ever manager to win the World Series when he guided the Houston Astros to a 4-2 victory against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Many of the athletes who stole the headlines in 2022 have been doing so for years.

No one is sure where an aging Cristiano Ronaldo will play his club football in January after ending his second spell at Manchester United in ignominious fashion, but the 37-year-old still appears to be set on extending his playing career after Portugal’s quarterfinal exit from the World Cup.

His rival Lionel Messi, meanwhile, ended the year on a sensational high, guiding Argentina to a third World Cup trophy. The 35-year-old Messi scored twice in an absorbing final against France and finally got his hands on the World Cup at the fifth time of asking, further staking his claim as the game’s greatest ever player.

That hasn’t been the only recent instance of an established superstar winning silverware. In last season’s NBA Finals, Steph Curry guided the Golden State Warriors to a fourth championship title in eight seasons – in the process picking up his first Finals MVP award as the Warriors beat the Boston Celtics.

In baseball, meanwhile, Aaron Judge enjoyed a season for the ages. The 30-year-old outfielder, who has reportedly just signed a nine-year, $360 million deal with the New York Yankees, hit 62 home runs last season, breaking Roger Maris’ single-season American League (AL) home run record from 1961.

On Wednesday, the Yankees named Judge, the reigning AL MVP, as the 16th captain in the franchise’s history.

Judge (left) hit a record-breaking 62 home runs last season.

But even as familiar faces have continued to shine, the past year has also seen future stars emerge.

The 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz ends the year as the youngest No. 1 in the history of the men’s tennis having triumphed at the US Open, and in the women’s game, Iga Swiatek, who rose to No. 1 in the world following Ashleigh Barty’s decision to retire after winning the Australian Open, looks set to dominate for years to come.

This year, the 21-year-old Swiatek won her second grand slam title at the French Open – which came in the middle of a 37-match winning streak – and her third at the US Open.

In Formula One, Max Verstappen has cemented his position as the best driver in the sport, comfortably defending his world title with four races to spare, while Erling Haaland, regarded as one of the best strikers in European football, has been scoring goals at a record-breaking rate during his first season at Manchester City.

There was no stopping Max Verstappen this year.

At the Winter Olympics in Beijing, then-18-year-old freestyle skier Eileen Gu stole the headlines, winning two gold medals and a silver for the host nation; she also became the first freestyle skier to earn three medals at a single Olympics.

Another teenager, figure skater Kamila Valieva, had a memorable Games for different reasons. The 16-year-old tested positive for trimetazidine, a heart medication, in December 2021, but the result didn’t come to light until Valieva was already in Beijing and had won gold in the figure skating team event.

In that competition, she became the first woman to land a quadruple jump – which involves four spins in the air – at the Winter Olympics.

The outcome from the positive test remains unresolved, and in November, the World Anti-Doping Agency referred Valieva’s case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport after deeming the Russian Anti-Doping Agency had made no progress.

Eileen Gu performs a trick during the women's freestyle freeski halfpipe final at the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has cast a shadow over much of this year’s sporting calendar.

Athletes and teams from Russia and Belarus were banned from competitions across various sports, including qualification games for this year’s World Cup and participation at Wimbledon.

The decision from Wimbledon was perhaps the strongest stance taken by a sports organization, resulting in the ATP and WTA Tours removing ranking points from this year’s tournament.

At the start of the war, many Ukrainian athletes – like skeleton racer Vladyslav Heraskevych and MMA fighter Yaroslav Amosov – opted to put their careers on hold and support the country’s military efforts.

Boxer Oleksandr Usyk has also spoken passionately about serving his country, and in the ring has extended his undefeated record, beating Anthony Joshua in August to retain his WBA (Super), IBF, WBO, and IBO heavyweight titles.

Oleksandr Usyk lands a punch on Anthony Joshua during their

Throughout 2022, sport and geopolitics have been closely entwined. This month, WNBA star Brittney Griner returned home to the US having been detained in Russia for nearly 10 months on drug smuggling charges.

Despite her testimony that she had inadvertently packed the cannabis oil that was found in her luggage, Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison in early August and was moved to a penal colony in the Mordovia republic in mid-November after losing her appeal.

The 32-year-old’s arrest in Russia sparked diplomatic drama between the US and the Kremlin which played out alongside Russia’s war in Ukraine.

She was released in a prisoner swap that involved Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The exchange, however, did not include another American that the State Department has declared wrongfully detained, Paul Whelan.

Brittney Griner is seen getting off a plane in an undated photo posted to her Instagram.

Perhaps no sport has been as gripped by internal politics this year as much as golf, which was rocked by the launch of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series in June.

LIV Golf has been criticized by some of the game’s leading players – including Woods and Rory McIlroy – while others – major champions Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson – have abandoned the PGA Tour in favor of the lucrative, breakaway series.

It has left the sport divided. Earlier this year, LIV Golf joined an antitrust lawsuit alongside some of its players, alleging that the PGA Tour threatened to place lifetime bans on players who participate in the LIV Golf series.

The suit also alleges that the PGA Tour has threatened sponsors, vendors, and agents to coerce players into abandoning opportunities to play in LIV Golf events.

The PGA Tour filed a countersuit in late September, claiming “tortious interference with the Tour’s contracts with its members.”

The LIV Golf series is backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) – a sovereign wealth fund chaired by Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and the man who a US intelligence report named as responsible for approving the operation that led to the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Bin Salman has denied involvement in Khashoggi’s murder.

LIV Golf’s launch is part of Saudi Arabia’s wider ambition to host and invest in global sports events. This year, it staged the rematch between Usyk and Joshua and even won a bid to host the 2029 Asian Winter Games.

But unquestionably, the most prominent sporting event held in the Gulf region this year has been the World Cup in Qatar.

The four-week-long tournament came to a thrilling conclusion on Sunday as Argentina lifted the trophy, bringing down the curtain on what FIFA president Gianni Infantino argued was the greatest World Cup of all time.

There were upsets, high-scoring games, and brilliant goals throughout – right up to Sunday’s showpiece when Messi reigned supreme and Kylian Mbappé scored a stunning hat-trick in a losing cause.

The match between Argentina and France at Qatar 2022 is being viewed as the greatest ever World Cup final.

It was the first time a country in the Middle East had hosted the World Cup, and Qatar, which has a population of just three million people, invested billions of dollars in building seven new stadiums, as well as new hotels and expansions to the country’s airport, rail networks and highways.

The tournament was also fraught with controversy, particularly when it came to allegations surrounding the country’s poor human rights record and treatment of migrant workers.

Since 2010, many migrant workers in Qatar have faced delayed or unpaid wages, forced labor, long hours in hot weather, employer intimidation, and an inability to leave their jobs because of the country’s sponsorship system, human rights organizations have found.

In the face of such criticism, Qatar has maintained it is an open, tolerant country and has seen the World Cup as a vehicle to accelerate labor reforms.

Elsewhere in international football, England won the Women’s European Championships for the first time in front of a record crowd on home soil, while Senegal claimed the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title in February, also for the first time.

Outside international competitions, Real Madrid won its 14th European crown by defeating Liverpool in the Champions League final – a game that was marred by security issues.

Real Madrid defeated Liverpool in this year's Champions League final in Paris.

The match itself was delayed by more than 35 minutes after Liverpool fans struggled to enter the Stade de France and tear gas was used by French police towards supporters held in tightly packed areas.

Paris police chief Didier Lallement admitted in June that the chaos was “obviously a failure” and said he takes “full responsibility for police management” of the event.

Tragically, football has witnessed multiple serious stadium disasters this year. In October, more than 130 people were killed in a stampede in the Indonesian city of Malang – one of the world’s deadliest stadium disasters of all time.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo later said the country would demolish and rebuild the stadium, vowing to “thoroughly transform” the sport in the football-mad nation.

Players and officials from Arema Football Club gather to pray on the pitch for victims of the stampede at Kanjuruhan stadium in Malang.

A stadium crush in the Cameroonian capital of Yaoundé during this year’s AFCON also saw at least eight people killed and 38 injured during the game between Cameroon and Comoros.

Looking ahead to 2023, Australia and New Zealand is scheduled to host the Women’s World Cup in July and August.

The US Women’s National Team (USWNT) could become the first team to win the tournament three times in a row.

This year, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), the USWNT’s Players Association (USWNTPA) and the United States National Soccer Team Players Association (USNSTPA) forged a landmark equal pay deal – the first federation in the world to equalize prize money awarded to the teams for participating in World Cups.

Next year will be the first time the USWNT has played a major tournament under such a deal.

Among the other major sporting events being held next year are the World Athletics Championshps in Budapest, Hungary, and the Rugby World Cup in France.

In the NFL, Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Arizona is only weeks away, while the NBA Playoffs begin two months later in April.

With the men’s World Cup over, club football resumes in Europe and tennis’ first grand slam of the year, the Australian Open, begins on January 16.

For sports fans, that will hopefully serve as tonic to stave off the January blues.



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LeBron James and Billie Jean King lead tributes to American journalist Grant Wahl | CNN



CNN
— 

The death of prominent journalist Grant Wahl at the World Cup in Qatar has led to an outpouring of shock and grief across the sports world, with NBA star LeBron James and tennis great Billie Jean King leading the tributes to the American.

Prominent American journalist Grant Wahl has died in Qatar after collapsing while covering the World Cup, sparking an outpouring of shock and grief across the sports world. He was 49.

King said Wahl’s death was “heartbreaking.”

“A talented journalist, Grant was an advocate for the LGBTQ community & a prominent voice for women’s soccer,” King tweeted Saturday. “He used his platform to elevate those whose stories needed telling. Prayers for his family.”

On Friday in Philadelphia, basketball star James said he had been “very fond of Grant.” While Wahl was at Sports Illustrated, he did a cover story on James when James was in high school.

“I’ve always kind of watched from a distance even when I moved up in ranks and became a professional, and he went to a different sport,” said James, speaking at a postgame press conference. “Any time his name would come up I’ll always think back to me as a teenager and having Grant in our building … It’s a tragic loss.”

Tyler Adams, the captain of the US men’s national soccer team, which was knocked out of the World Cup by the Netherlands in the last 16, sent his “deepest sympathy” to Wahl’s wife, Celine Gounder, and to those who knew him.

“As players we have a tremendous amount of respect for the work of journalists, & Grant’s was a giant voice in soccer that has tragically fallen silent,” Adams wrote on Twitter.

Qatar’s World Cup organizers said on Saturday that Wahl “fell ill” in the press area, where he received “immediate medical treatment on site.”

He was then transferred to Hamad General Hospital, said a spokesperson for the Supreme Court Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the body responsible for planning the tournament.

Wahl was treated in the stadium “for about 20-25 minutes” before he was moved to the hospital, Keir Radnedge, a columnist at World Soccer Magazine, told CNN Saturday.

“This was towards the end of extra time in the match. Suddenly, colleagues up to my left started shouting for medical assistance. Obviously, someone had collapsed. Because the chairs are freestanding, people were able to move the chairs, so it’s possible to create a little bit of space around him,” Radnedge said.

He added that the medical team were there “pretty quickly and were able to, as best they could, give treatment.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reacted to Wahl’s death on Saturday, adding that senior State Department officials were in touch with Qatari officials and Grant’s family.

“Grant Wahl was an inspiration to many. Our thoughts are with his wife Dr. Céline Gounder and all those who loved him. State Department officials are in touch with Grant’s family and with senior officials in the government of Qatar to ensure his family gets the support they need,” Jean-Pierre wrote on Twitter.

“Only some days ago, Grant was recognized by FIFA and AIPS (the International Sports Press Association) for his contribution to reporting on eight consecutive FIFA World Cups,” said FIFA President Gianni Infantino in a statement.

Infantino and FIFA media director Bryan Swanson were at the hospital on Saturday to offer any kind of support needed for the family, friends, and the journalists who were also his housemates in Qatar.

The co-editors in chief of Sports Illustrated, the publication where Wahl spent the majority of his career, said in a joint statement they were “shocked and devastated at the news of Grant’s passing.”

“We were proud to call him a colleague and friend for two decades – no writer in the history of (Sports Illustrated) has been more passionate about the sport he loved and the stories he wanted to tell,” said the statement.

It added that Wahl had first joined the publication in November 1996. He had volunteered to cover the sport as a junior reporter – back before it reached the heights of global popularity it now enjoys – eventually becoming “one of the most respected soccer authorities in the world,” it said.

The statement said that Wahl also worked with other media outlets including Fox Sports. After leaving Sports Illustrated in 2020, he began publishing his podcast and newsletter.

Other current and former US soccer players, including Ali Krieger and Tony Meola, shared their condolences, as did sporting bodies such as Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League.

Wittyngham, Wahl’s podcast co-host, told CNN on Saturday the news of his death had been hard to fathom.

“For Americans, Grant Wahl is the first person you read covering soccer. He was kind of the only person for a while … Grant was the first person who really paid genuine attention to this sport in a meaningful way,” Wittyngham said.

Several journalists shared stories of reporting alongside Wahl, and having encountered him at multiple World Cups over the years.

“Before he became the best covering soccer he did hoops and was so kind to me,” wrote famed broadcaster Dick Vitale.

Timmy T. Davis, the US Ambassador to Qatar, tweeted that Wahl was “a well known and greatly respected reporter who focused on the beautiful game.”

“The entire US Soccer family is heartbroken to learn that we have lost Grant Wahl,” US Soccer said in a statement on its official Twitter account.

“Grant made soccer his life’s work, and we are devastated that he and his brilliant writing will no longer be with us.”

US Soccer praised Wahl’s passion and “belief in the power of the game to advance human rights,” and shared its condolences with Wahl’s wife, Celine Gounder, and his loved ones.

Gounder also posted the US Soccer statement on Twitter.

“I am so thankful for the support of my husband Grant Wahl’s soccer family and of so many friends who’ve reached out tonight. I’m in complete shock,” wrote Gounder, a former CNN contributor who served on the Biden-Harris transition Covid-19 advisory board.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the department was in “close communication” with Wahl’s family. The World Cup organizers also said they were in touch with the US embassy “to ensure the process of repatriating the body is in accordance with the family’s wishes.”

Wahl wearing a rainbow-colored t-shirt while working at Qatar 2022.

Wahl had covered soccer for more than two decades, including 11 World Cups — six men’s, five women’s – and authored several books on the sport, according to his website.

He had just celebrated his birthday earlier this week with “a great group of media friends at the World Cup,” according to a post on his official Twitter account, which added: “Very thankful for everyone.”

In an episode of the podcast Futbol with Grant Wahl, published days before his death on December 6, he had complained of feeling unwell.

“It had gotten pretty bad in terms of like the tightness in my chest, tightness, pressure. Feeling pretty hairy, bad,” Wahl told co-host Chris Wittyngham in the episode. He added that he sought help at the medical clinic at the World Cup media center, believing he had bronchitis.

He was given cough syrup and ibuprofen, and felt better shortly afterward, he said.

Wahl also said he experienced an “involuntary capitulation by my body and mind” after the US-Netherlands game on December 3.

“This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve done eight of these on the men’s side,” he said at the time. “And so like, I’ve gotten sick to some extent at every tournament, and it’s just about trying to find a way to like get your work done.”

He further described the incident in a recent newsletter published on December 5, writing that his body had “broke down” after he had little sleep, high stress and a heavy workload. He’d had a cold for 10 days, which “turned into something more severe,” he wrote, adding that he felt better after receiving antibiotics and catching up on sleep.

Wahl had made headlines in November by reporting that he was detained and briefly refused entry to a World Cup match because he was wearing a rainbow t-shirt in support of LGBTQ rights.

He said security staff had told him to change his shirt because “it’s not allowed,” and had taken his phone. Wahl said he was released 25 minutes after being detained and received apologies from a FIFA representative and a senior member of the security team at the stadium.

Afterward, Wahl told CNN he “probably will” wear the shirt again.



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“Showed what he’s about” – England star wowed by Argentina captain Lionel Messi’s ‘unbelievable’ performance against Mexico 


England attacker Jack Grealish was awestruck by Lionel Messi‘s performance for Argentina in their thrilling 2-0 victory over Mexico at the FIFA World Cup.

Argentina went into the game against Le Tricolor on 26 November, knowing that a victory was vital as they lost their FIFA World Cup opener 2-1 to Saudi Arabia.

Everyone was stunned by La Albiceleste’s poor performance in the first half, with many criticizing Lionel Messi’s display.

However, the Argentine icon took the game by the scruff of the neck and fired home an incredible 64th-minute strike to send his side on their way to victory.

The impressive young Enzo Fernandez grabbed Argentina’s second in the 87th minute, but it was yet another night when Lionel Messi made headlines.

The win was vital for Argentina as it propelled them to second place, one point behind group leaders Poland, who they face in their final group game on 30 November.

Grealish was interviewed ahead of England’s clash with Wales on 29 November and was among those left mesmerized by Messi.

He told talkSPORT:

“I watch all the games to be honest. We have screens all over the place and it’s just nice to have games on all day. I watched Messi, unbelievable. He just showed what he’s about in that second half but then again so did Mbappe.”

1 – Lionel Messi is now both the youngest (18y 357d vs Serbia in 2006) and the oldest (35y 155d vs Mexico today) player to both score and assist in a single World Cup game since the start of the 1966 tournament. Longevity. https://t.co/e6Ak6fmI8l


Lionel Messi reacts to Argentina’s win over Mexico

Lionel Messi to the rescue
Lionel Messi to the rescue

The pressure had grown on Argentina following their shocking defeat to Saudi Arabia.

It went down as one of the biggest shocks in FIFA World Cup history, and Lionel Scaloni’s side were in dire need of bouncing back against Mexico.

Following their victory over the north Americans, Messi spoke of his relief at securing a win as they are now back on track in Group C.

He said (via the Guardian):

“We lived with discomfort given the defeat in the opening match [against Saudi Arabia] was something we didn’t expect.

He continued,

“The days felt very long and we were eager to have the chance to turn it around. We knew it was a critical game. Luckily we had the option to win and it was a weight off our shoulders, a reason for joy and peace of mind because it is all down to us again.”

If Scaloni’s men beat Poland, they will qualify as Group C winners for the last 16 of the FIFA World Cup.

Lionel Messi is set to come up against Barcelona frontman Robert Lewandowski in what is now a mouthwatering encounter at Stadium 974.

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