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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Olympics will be held without spectators after Tokyo declared its fourth state of emergency less than three weeks after lifting its third.

The state of play: The Games begin two weeks from today, and these last-minute changes impact 15,000+ athletes, 50,000+ officials, 70,000+ volunteers and countless others as they prepare for the Games.

  • Athletes will now be in empty venues during the biggest moments of their lives. They were already prepared for family to be absent, but at least limited fans would have approximated a normal environment.
  • Broadcasters must adjust production plans. Will the now-empty stands affect camera positioning? What about acoustics?
  • Staffers could be reshuffled or cut loose entirely.
  • Sponsors are admitting the Games are a sunk cost and canceling or scaling back activations now that fans won't be there, per Reuters.
  • Some reporters are landing in Tokyo without knowing if they can enter the country. Others, like Axios' Ina Fried, are spending hours each day in "terrible computer systems" trying to submit detailed activity plans for approval before they arrive.
  • The torch relay will continue, but on an altered trajectory, with remaining legs completed either virtually or on private roads.
A near-empty train carriage in Tokyo on Thursday. Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images

The big picture: This all feels very 2020, when the return of sports necessitated extraordinary measures and the "bubble" concept was born.

  • Those isolated environments were the only way forward last year. But with cases falling and vaccines becoming available, empty venues have mostly become a thing of the past.
  • And yet this month, the world's biggest sporting event will be held in a bubble, in a country where just 15% of residents are fully vaccinated.

Looking ahead: While the Games may still end up captivating TV audiences, the on-the-ground experience in Tokyo is going to be bizarre.

  • Athletes will be tested daily upon arrival and will be forced to withdraw if they test positive once the Games are underway.
  • Most aren't in Tokyo yet, but at least three athletes have already tested positive and been put in isolation since getting there.

The bottom line: Organizers had an extra year to plan for the strangest Olympics in history. But here we are, 14 days out, and they appear to be doing so by the seat of their pants.

Go deeper

Behind 2021's wave of excellent games

Expand chart
Data: Eurogamer and Axios research; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

Gaming publication Eurogamer just awarded its top recommendation — "essential" — to an 11th game this year, equaling the tally for 2020. That’s despite reviewing fewer games and with two months remaining in the year.

Driving the news: That achievement was earned by the captivating virtual card game “Inscryption” and continues a season full of stand-out releases. Many are from smaller studios that are benefitting from an unusual year in games.

2 hours ago - Sports

Gonzaga University revokes NBA great John Stockton's tickets over mask stance

Former Utah Jazz player John Stockton during a 2017 press conference in Salt Lake City. Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Gonzaga University suspended the season tickets of notable alumni John Stockton after the NBA Hall of Famer failed to comply with the school's basketball games mask mandate, the Spokesman-Review first reported.

Driving the news: "Basically, it came down to, they were asking me to wear a mask to the games and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit," the former Utah Jazz point guard told the outlet in an interview Saturday.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

State Department orders evacuation of U.S. diplomats' families from Ukraine

From left, undersecretary for political affairs Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. chargés d'affaires in Ukraine Kristina Kvien during a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv. Photo: Yevhen Liubimov/ Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The State Department will begin evacuating families and nonessential staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv this week, according to a travel advisory published Sunday evening.

Why it matters: The move underscores U.S. fears that a Russian invasion could destabilize Ukraine and threaten the embassy's ability to assist Americans.