By Sara Hooker

Sporting events have traditionally been a source of catharsis for the nation-state. The 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing was like prom for the girl who had finally removed her braces, as China showed off the eclectic economic mix which had taken it to dizzying new heights of wealth. The World Cup this year in South Africa showed a host nation with a truly hopeless soccer team but a more valid story; a country emerging from the after effects of apartheid as a blossoming economic power.

Of course, the role of the debutante nation-state is not always easy. Greece struggled to organize the 2004 Summer Olympics in time, running massively over budget and saved only by the formidable Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki. The games themselves were a success but the fundamental issues within the Olympic committee; corruption, logistical delays and incoherence in government seemed to indicate greater underlying issues which rippled the economic system.

Looking at the latest example of international games, the 2010 Commonwealth Games currently underway in Delhi, India, we may again question what these games say about the economy of the host nation. So far the verdict is discouraging. The games themselves have been ill attended with empty stadiums dominating the landscape and heavy criticism about the state of facilities, particularly the Athletes’ village. This is all against an estimated sunk cost of $2.8 billion, making it the most expensive Commonwealth Games in history.

What does this say about India’s future as an emerging economic power?

The New York Times has not hesitated in drawing comparisons between the Commonwealth Games and Indian politics, associating many of the issues with the games to ‘insular Indian political culture where cronyism and nepotism trump competence’ and asserting that rampant corruption have dominated the games.

Is this too simplistic an analysis? The Greek default crisis earlier this year, where Greece verged on declaring itself unable to finance its debt, had much in common, at least superficially, with Greece’s Olympic preparations – a bloated labor force, corrupt officials, and unrealistic spiraling costs of living sustained by issuing debt. However, India is not Greece.

India is instead an emerging economy that is expected to drive global demand, along with the other BRIC nations, in the next decade. Yes, as the New York Times asserts, India is hampered by its politics; its confusing federal setup gives much room for competing political personalities and does not foster cooperation. Its ongoing tensions in Kashmir is evidence of deep political division which causes fractures in the economy mainly because the huge surges in wealth has yet to be felt by all regions. This does not mean we should abandon the big picture. The liberalization of India’s economy has incorporated millions into the global capitalist system for the first time. It has created a surging middle class whose new lifestyles will create different expectations for the next generation. Yes, it has not been done with much grace or rigor, and is rather a haphazard patchwork of individual entrepreneurs, but it has been done nonetheless.

The games, with their many flaws, are on.