Ecuador international Christian "Chucho" Benitez died on Monday, a day after playing his first match for Qatari club El Jaish. He was 27.
In the confusion that erupted as the shocking news spread, the cause of death was not immediately clear. But, as pointed out by SB Nation's Callum Hamilton, this didn't stop Sports Illustrated and the Associated Press from trying to link Benitez's death to the summer heat in Qatar — a controversial issue as the possible decision to move the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to the winter in order to avoid dangerous temperatures continues to be fiercely debated. The AP's report notes that the Sheikh Jassim Cup match against Qatar Sports that would be Benitez's last "was played in hot and humid conditions, which are typical of the Persian Gulf at this time of year." It ends not with any words about Benitez or his life, but with explanation of the Qatar weather controversy.
Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup and the searing temperatures have prompted many former football stars as well as FIFA President Sepp Blatter to call for the competition to be moved to the cooler, winter months. Blatter plans to ask FIFA's executive committee later this year to move it.
Sports Illustrated's website then published this report under the headline "Ecuador star Christian Benitez dies a day after playing in Qatar heat," making the link between the death and Qatar's weather unmistakable. Almost every other website carrying the very same AP report, however, had the standard headline "Ecuador striker Christian Benitez dies in Qatar."
The problem with invoking Qatar's weather as relevant information is that, at the time of these writings, there is no evidence to suggest that it is relevant. An official statement from the Ecuador FA said that Benitez was taken to a Hospital in Qatar with stomach pains and died hours later from cardiac arrest. And according to The Mirror, Benitez's father in law, Cleber Chala, told Ecuadorian radio that Benitez was diagnosed with appendicitis upon arrival at the hospital, which "developed into peritonitis and complications led to a respiratory arrest."
At this point, so much is still unknown and unconfirmed about what ended Benitez's life far too soon that to suggest an as of yet baseless connection to the much discussed weather that could face the 2022 World Cup comes off as an attempt to sensationalize what is already a great tragedy.
Here's a tribute video to Benitez made by former club Birmingham City, where he spent the 2009-10 season on loan from Santos Laguna. He only scored four goals that season (as opposed to the 52 he scored in his last two season with Club America), but he clearly made an indelible impression on the team as a person.