The World Cup kicks off this Sunday, and whether you call it soccer or football, enthusiasm is building among fans of the sport in New York. But a cloud of controversy hangs over the event because of human rights concerns in the tournament's host nation, Qatar.

The World Cup, which is held every four years, is taking place in Qatar this year after FIFA, soccer's international governing body, selected the country in 2010. This year’s global tournament marks several firsts for FIFA fans.

It’s the first time the World Cup is coming to Qatar. It is usually held in the summer, but for the first time, this year’s tournament was moved to late November to avoid the intense heat in Qatar in June and July. Meanwhile, this year’s schedule interrupts ongoing season games in Europe, which sets new implications for the health of several teams.

This year’s games have also come under intense scrutiny for the treatment of migrant workers. Reports show thousands of workers died building infrastructure for the games, including Khalifa International Stadium, where matches will be played. FIFA is proceeding with it as the stage for the World Cup and choosing not to address the humanitarian concerns in Qatar.

Around New York City, some fans hold on to the highly anticipated event as a piece of their culture, and say they burn with team spirit ahead of the games. But the excitement does not reach others who say the future of organized soccer looks bleak.

We spoke with soccer enthusiasts in the city who shared their thoughts on the World Cup, who they're rooting for, and their love for the game.

Galo Montesdeoca.

Galo Montesdeoca wants FIFA to put politics and profits aside for the love of the game

Galo Montesdeoca, who was born in Ecuador and now lives in Bushwick, said the World Cup is really about the fans. After all, he said he got to witness how a true fandom operates in Ecuador, back in 2018, when his dad took him to a game as a rite of passage.

“When it comes to [Ecuador] fans, it’s all about flair. It’s just hectic and energetic, and everybody’s so passionate. Beers are being thrown around. It’s just beautiful. And that’s what I loved about [it], people just getting together, and just forgetting everything.”

Ahead of the World Cup, Montesdeoca said it’s difficult being a fan now considering the rap sheet FIFA has accrued over the years. “There’s a lot of weird, messed up history that doesn’t seem like it’s only for the fans. It seems more political and money hungry. I’m just disappointed,” he said.

Montesdeoca said the only fix is for FIFA to double back to its drawing board.

“The people that first created FIFA had a project to bring a community together,” he said. “I guess in the same sense they are still doing that. But I just know their ideology changed. Instead of soccer, it started focusing more on money. They started losing the main focus. Soccer does bring hope for a country, when you win, when you do good, especially surprising games, it brings hope to a lot of people.”

Ecuador’s national team will kick off the 2022 event, which has Montesdeoca feeling torn. On one hand, he said FIFA’s inaction to humanitarian abuses in Qatar is troublesome for the sport, but on the other hand, it is bringing his family together over the next month.

“My family is setting up this amazing mukbang right now for Sunday morning. We eat ceviche and encebollado, and there’s gonna be a lot of fish cocktails. Everybody from all different parts of the country is flying into my aunt’s house. We’re all going to get together just to watch the first game with all of our jerseys on, ready to eat good food and watch Qatar lose.”

He said, “We just want an escape and soccer is our escape.”

Charlotte Dupre.

Charlotte Dupre recalled the ‘bleu, blanc, brun’ chant in the 1998 World Cup and its promise of equality

Charlotte Dupre is originally from France, but now lives in Brooklyn. As she prepares to watch and cheer on the French to take the World Cup for the third time, she said, she remembers how traditional practices around soccer casted her to the sidelines.

“Like every kid my age, I wanted to play, so my mom brought me to the soccer team next door. I made the trial pass, but I was the only girl on the team. There were no facilities for girls, so I was separated,” she said.

Dupre played competitively from the age of 8 until her 12th birthday, when the coach said she could no longer be allowed to participate on the team, she said. At first, this soured her relationship with soccer and it took her nearly two decades to put her cleats back on.

In looking back on her experience with the game of soccer, and as more women teams spring into competition across the globe, she said she feels change is necessary.

“It taught me a lesson that helped me later on … that I would have to fight stronger and always be aware that society sees me as something and thinks I can only do certain things, which is not true. Soccer is a sport that is very important for people to learn how to work in teams. And later on when you work you’re gonna have to play and work and do teamwork with everyone,” she said.

And she recalled the 1998 World Cup as a perfect precedent for this change, when a 1978 classic by singer Gloria Gaynor became the team’s unofficial anthem.

“In ‘98 the song was, ‘I Will Survive.’ That was the message because France was not able to win it until [then.] It was like the glass ceiling. And we broke it in ‘98. It was also the first generation of strong players coming from immigrant backgrounds. It was a story of a society making peace with its history, [and] that song was about overcoming an abusive relationship.” When they chanted for France’s victory, “normally, it’s blue, white and red,” but that year they sang “bleu, blanc and brun [blue, white and brown] for the color of the North African immigrants” to show unity, Dupre said.

Mickey Voll.

Mickey Voll, a Manhattan resident, said he’s helping unfold a sea of orange over the next month

Originally from the Netherlands, Mickey Voll is a manager at Pele Soccer who moved to the Upper East Side five years ago. He said he began working for the soccer store in Times Square as part of a lifelong dedication to the sport.

“The Dutch culture is all about football. [When] you sum up my life, it’s always family, football, my city and my beliefs. I believe in Christ. Other than that, footy is high on that list,” he said.

This year marks the first time the Dutch have qualified for the World Cup in eight years, but this time Voll is away from home.

“Normally I would be in the Netherlands. I’d be watching with my family. Always with family and friends, a lot of beers, a lot of food,” he said. “My family is in the Netherlands, so it’s gonna be a different experience.”

He said with help from the Dutch embassy and the Netherlands Club of New York, his community will come together as one to support the team in Manhattan, sporting the national color of orange.

“Everybody in the Netherlands is dressed in orange. The orange flags are coming out. So I got my orange community here and those who are coming together at Hurley's Bar in Times Square,” said Voll.

“It’s gonna be a lot of fun, we got Dutch food coming in, like Biba, there’s gonna be Dutch beer. Instead of watching with my family, [I’ll] be watching with my fellow country people,” he said.

For anyone seeking information on the Dutch gathering, the details are here.

Roey Rozen.

Roey Rozen, a comedian living in Bed-Stuy, said the World Cup matches help him connect

Roey Rozen, who was born in Israel, said that even though his home country will not play in the games this year, the World Cup is just enough. For Rozen, it's more than winning and losing, the international football competition is a language.

“When you’re watching the World Cup, you can go to anybody of any race at work and you’re like, ‘Yo, you watching the World Cup?’ And they’re like, ‘Oh my God, Rodriguez scored the craziest goal,'” Rozen said.

He said he loves how a single word like "goal" can bring cultures together.

“There's so much emotion and passion behind that word. It doesn’t matter what language you speak. Everyone sees what happened. Everyone knows what you’re saying … Behind so few words, it’s just very powerful for connecting with other people,” he said.

In addition to establishing new connections, Rozen said, soccer also strengthens older ones.

“Me and my dad bond over soccer a lot," he said. "It’s one of the things we talk about the most. It just makes for really good small talk and ways for us to engage with each other on a deeper level. Hopefully me and my dad can catch a few games together.”

Justin Silverman.

Justin Silverman said he is not excited for the World Cup because of all the foul play

Justin Silverman is a member of Sunrise Football Club in Brooklyn's Prospect Park West neighborhood. He said he won't be glued to the tube over this holiday stretch, and that he’s more thrilled about cutting turkey in the coming days.

“My wife and I are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time, so if I see any of the games that day, it's gonna be very much on the sly. This might be the last World Cup I watch, it’s a pretty filthy business,” he said. “The human cost, the quad sporting, seems like a way to move a bunch of money around, I don’t know why it’s necessary to build new stadiums every time.”

Silverman is originally from California, where he was living when the World Cup was played in Pasadena in 1994. He said a lot has changed since — namely the price point for even being a soccer fan these days.

“When I still lived in Los Angeles, it was still possible to buy a World Cup ticket at face value. And I will probably never go to a World Cup match again unless someone buys me [a ticket],” he said.

Given his overall luck with soccer, perhaps he has a 50-50 chance.

“The very last [soccer] game we played before the lockdown in March 2020, I was standing there with my friend Tay, and the ball came in, we had a miscommunication. It hit my shin and went into our goal. I scored a goal for the other team,” he said. “So I ran up the other end of the field, which is not something I typically do. Off a corner kick, the ball came flying into the air and I just [pivoted], threw my leg up, and it just slammed into the back of the net. Everybody looked at the ball, looked at me and said, ‘What just happened?’”

Silverman said he looks forward to creating more of his own memories on the field this winter, instead of supporting soccer’s international stage in Qatar.