For most of Mariam al-Anezi’s life, it felt as if no one knew where Qatar was. She would tell people that she was from Dubai, the more well-known. Gulf A seven-hour drive from the Arab Emirate.

As the crowds of her fans descend upon her country to support her, World CupShe is seen roaming Doha’s streets, greeting strangers from India, Europe, and enjoying the festivities in A sense of pride in her nation’s new visibility on the global stage.

“People know Doha now,” Ms. al Anezi, 35, stated as her children kicked soccer ball around a promenade at the seaside on a recent evening. “Those who come, they’ll see it with their own eyes and they’ll know how to judge with their hearts.”

In the last decade, Qatar Its resource-rich Gulf neighbors have poured billions of dollars into international sports, buying teams, sponsorships and hosting events‌, in Partly, this is to boost their global clout but also to diversify and attract tourism to help them achieve their foreign policy goals. It is also to incite nationalism at home, which legitimizes the authoritarian regime.

Saudi Arabia has started a new tournament in golf this year, which competes with the P.G.A. Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, hosted preseason NBA matches last month. Family members of the ruling family and government agencies in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates. Qatar They all have purchased soccer teams abroad, including Newcastle United’s takeover by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.

Qatar’s hosting of the World CupThe, which begins on Sunday, marks the culmination of the regional drive to international sports. The culmination of 12 years worth of preparation and more that $200 billion, this month-long tournament represents three million people in a country with over 3 million inhabitants. in Subsumed infrastructure spending into a grand project of nation-building for Connecticut, which is surrounded with more powerful neighbors.

More than one million people are expected to visit the site in the coming weeks, it is also part of a broader push by the Qatari rulers to thrust their conservative Islamic country from obscurity into the global spotlight — a strategy funded by vast natural gas wealth. So much is riding on ‌the event’s success that this week in Doha has had the feeling that the entire city is holding its breath in anticipation.‌

Critics accuse Gulf The use of sports by governments to improve their international image in the face of allegations of human rights abuses is a common practice. Gulf’s hereditary rulers.

Saudi Arabia is trying to diversify its oil-dependent economy. Sports can help spur job creation as well as consumer spending. All across the GulfPublic health advocates believe that sports can be used to encourage healthy lifestyles among those who struggle with diabetes and childhood obesity.

A billionaire royal could also purchase a global soccer club to symbolize his status. Many love soccer. in Leaders can use the region to boost their visibility and profile.

“The whole reason for the World Cup is its an exercise or a step in Qatar seeking to secure itself and have relevance and legitimacy,” Simon Chadwick, a Paris-based professor in sport and geopolitical economies at Skema, has been traveling around the world. Qatar For more than a decade, he has witnessed it change in The lead-up to the tournament.

All that attention has its downsides. in Recent months Qatar The state has come under a lot scrutiny and criticism from European, British, American and British commentators. These commentators have pointed out the fact that it is an authoritarian monarchy without any political participation.

Discrimination against L.G.B.T.Q. The treatment of migrant workers and discrimination against L.G.B.T.Q. have cast shadows on the tournament.

It is like many other things. Gulf neighbors, Qatar Low-income workers from South Asia or Africa are the ones who rely on them. They often work long hours for little pay and face abuse. The sheer number of workers who toiled to build the infrastructure surrounding the tournament has highlighted the region’s exploitative employment system for foreign workers, spurring some changes that activists have said do not go far enough.

Fans protested when a decision was made to ban beer in the stadiums. Some Qataris feel that the ban is necessary. World Cup This has attracted more negative than positive attention.

However, for the Gulf monarchies — each of which face their own internal and external challenges — investments in Sports can often be used as a strategy for strengthening national identity and legitimizing their leaders. This is done both to local and regional audiences.

When Qatar You can bid for the World Cup More than a decade back, the goal was simple: to be known. Today, it’s home to an international carrier, a U.S. army air base, and the Al-Jazeera network that projects its influence throughout the globe.

Officials believe the World Cup This will be established Qatar It is a state distinct from its larger neighbors, like Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates.

The government’s efforts to link itself with the international community are partly motivated by Qatar’s vulnerabilities, which include its own self-defense, said Danyel Reiche, a visiting associate professor at Georgetown University Qatar One who studies politics of sport.

These insecurities can be seen on a map. Qatar It has less than 400,000 residents and is a peninsula that includes two of the largest regional powers in the region: Saudi Arabia or Iran. Although it has friendly relations with both, they cannot be taken for granted.

2017 was a year in which the United Arab Emirates (Saudi Arabia), Bahrain, Egypt, and Bahrain severed diplomatic and transport ties. QatarThe country was accused of supporting Islamist extremists and terrorists, and of meddling in They are responsible for their internal affairs. Qatar The charges were dismissed and the rift continued for years, becoming increasingly bitter, until it was finally resolved last year.

It was nevertheless a moment of inspiration for the young nation.

“What motivates me, truly, is I feel like we’re nation-building,” Machaille Al Naimi is the executive officer for strategic initiatives at The Qatar Foundation, a deep-pocketed education and social development organization that is run by Qatari ruling family members and a key part of the state’s soft power strategy.

Ms. Al Naimi stated that it felt like everyone was there for the past 12 years. in The country was working towards the World Cup — unifying the population through a trying time.

After winning the bid to be host, Qatar More than $200 billion has been spent on building its capital, constructing new metro systems and a network highway system. The World Cup Was “used as a vehicle to accelerate these initiatives,” Hassan Al Thawadi is the secretary general Qatar’s World Cup The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy is the organization. in An interview in October.

Hosting the tournament means people will be able to see it. Qatar “as a destination,” He stated.

Qataris are concerned about the possible drunken crowds and the speed and direction of change brought on by the flood. Many plan to travel abroad or stay at home to avoid the deluge. Some are excited, however.

A new museum specializing in sports in Doha, exhibitions trace sports’ development from ancient times to present. The exhibitions conclude with a history soccer. in Qatar.

The sport was introduced to the region by foreign oil companies and colonial officials. in According to Abdullah Al-Arian’s work, the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and North Africa were used as tools by nationalist movements over the past century. QatarA soccer- and politics-focused scholar in The region.

The game has also been used as a point of protest and mobilization. in Countries where civil society groups and political parties have been effectively banned. Die-hard fan groups played an important role in Egypt and Algeria. in Revolutionary movements that organize crowds and confront police and the military.

Soccer offers a rare release in Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian poet, wrote that countries have few outlets for collective energy. in 1982.

“Soccer is the field of expression permitted by secret understanding between ruler and ruled in the prison cell of Arab democracy, which threatens to destroy guards along with prisoners,” He wrote.

Fans began to arrive this month in Doha, the city’s traditional marketplace felt like a carnival. The streets were filled with children, and young men shouted their way through the crowds using an airhorn. in Soccer jerseys as tourists pose for photographs and television cameras in The footage.

His shoulders are drapped in his country’s flag, Abdulmajeed al-Harthi, 28, from Saudi Arabia, said he planned to stay in Doha to the tournament was finished, even though the Saudi team was knocked out in the early stages.

“This is our second religion,” He said. When he watches sporting events, he says. in Saudi Arabia or Qatar After a lifetime of watching them live on television from Europe or the United States, he is proud to be able to say that.

“Most Western and European countries have a bad image of us,” He stated. “We want to improve the way they look at us. We want to change their view, first of all, of Islam.”

Christina Goldbaum Contributed reporting