The huge banner before millions of television viewers tuned in to the quarter-final matches, was clear: "Say No to Racism."
Between the national anthem and the kick-off, the captains of eight teams, -- Germany, Argentina, Italy, Ukraine, England, Portugal, Brazil, and France -- read statements from a clipboard condemning racism, using the World Cup as a platform to send a message around the globe. There was even a prescient moment when David Beckham's microphone fizzed out along with England's hopes, and Portugal captain Luis Figo graciously proffered his own.
Never mind that the statements were in part inaudible or issued in a language that most viewers could not understand. It was also the means, not just the message that counted.
Creating awareness about racism
"You might not have caught what the players said, but you knew that this was a stand against racism. We cannot change the hearts and minds of a few bigots, but we can create awareness and heighten sensitivity about race issues," said Piara Powar, director of Kick It Out, the UK branch of the network FARE, which stands for Football Against Racism in Europe.
Under an initiative by FARE and World Cup organizers FIFA, the quarter-finals on June 30 and July 1 were long designated as "anti-discrimination" days.
"As the world's most popular sport, football has the power to fight racism", said FIFA President Joseph Blatter in an official statement.
Besides symbolic gestures that reach television audiences, FIFA has also toughened sanctions for racial abuses by punishing clubs and national associations with match suspensions, point deductions and outright disqualification from competition.
Making the World Cup a platform for a cause
That FIFA has taken such a strong position on a pressing social issue is a first in a major international tournament. The move has been welcomed by various human rights groups and government figures.
"It was courageous of FIFA to take this step. They did not need to dedicate this powerful platform to the fight against racism. It is clear that this event will not solve the problem but it sends a clear message," said South African human rights activist Tokyo Sexwale, who is a member of the 2010 World Cup Organizing Committee.
Uwe-Karsten Heye, a close aide to former chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who recently created a storm of controversy over his widely publicized remarks about "no-go" areas for non-white visitors in eastern Germany, praised the use of matches to send out anti-racist messages.
Use of celebrities to further a cause
"These world class players--Michael Ballack, David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane-- are idolized by fans. They have set a good precedent and bring sympathy to the cause," said Heye, who founded the advocacy group "Gesicht zeigen!" to combat racism.
"But, the question is, what happens after the World Cup? On the soccer field, as in daily life, there are always racist incidents simmering in the background, and one must not be blind to or walk away from them" stressed Heye.
Even Germany's super-striker Miroslav Klose, who overcame prejudice as an immigrant from Poland, has given his support to the anti-racist project "Stand up. Speak up".
Striker Miroslav Klose's campaign against landmines
More visibly, Klose has lent his image to another cause during the World Cup--the campaign against the use of landmines. Currently the image of a protesting Klose is featured on a huge video billboard in a busy intersection across the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin, as well as prominently displayed in newspapers across the country.
"We had approached other prominent athletes, but it was Klose who gave us his full support immediately. He even approved the publicity photo. That Klose is also immensely popular and credible, is very much a boost for us", said Thomas Küchenmeister, head of the anti-landmine lobby "Aktionbündnis Landmine."
And as the top scorer of the tournament, the German forward's star value for a good cause, can only rise.