Iran's national team will lock horns with the heavyweights of soccer at the World Cup in Russia this month. But before the clashes begin, Team Melli is in a gift-giving mood.
The squad plans to present silk Persian carpets to FIFA, the world governing body of soccer; the Russian Football Union; and the national teams of Spain, Portugal, and Morocco, Iran's opponents in the group stage of the tournament. Two other carpets are reserved for the Iranian Football Federation and the Astan Quds Razavi, the organization that runs Iran's holiest sites.
Iran's carpet diplomacy gives it a chance to showcase the country's rich history and culture on the world stage, where it often plays the role of international pariah notorious for it theocratic regime, suppression of human rights, and controversial nuclear program.
Iran began gifting its most famous export during its 1998 World Cup appearance in France, when it gave a Persian carpet to soccer star Zinedine Zidane through an intermediary, former FIFA President Sepp Blatter.