For ambitious civic and national boosts sport mega-events provide unique opportunities for the pursuit of symbolic politics—a chance to signal important changes of direction, reframe dominant narratives about the host, and/or reinforce key messages of change. These signals or narratives are critical vehicles of legitimation, with both narrowly instrumental objectives and more expansive purposes related to the mobilisation of societal support for certain dominant ‘ideas of the state’. This paper explores the realm of symbolic politics through a comparative analysis of three disparate mega-event hosts which will take the world stage in 2010: South Africa (the FIFA World Cup), Delhi/India (the Commonwealth Games), and Vancouver/Canada (the Winter Olympics). The paper argues that despite important differences in the circumstances of these hosts and the events they are to mount, there are some key commonalities in the narratives they seek to deploy and the subtexts they embody. These commonalities revolve around a paradoxical blending of inclusive, transcendent, or cosmopolitan narratives on the one hand, and competitive, differentiating narratives of ‘world class’ aspirations and achievements, on the other. Strikingly then, these widely dispersed events have become vehicles for similar messages with potentially contradictory implications.