Without knowing all the details and rationale as provided by USA Judo, all one can do is speculate. Even though the different participation categories in the US were apparently considered normal by its citizens, there were various oddities in the past too. It seems to me that part of the real rationale behind the creation of those categories were to artificially create opportunities for people to win medals who otherwise would not.
In most countries the situation with tournaments was pretty straightforward in the past, and boiled down to:
- National championships: accessible originally only for its citizens
- International tournament/championships: accessible to only the national team officially sent to the tournament by an IJF country
- International open tournament/championships: accessible to everyone with an IJF license/membership card
Over time a number of problems arose. Well, that is to say, some of these were not really 'problems' but they were considered as 'problems' by some federations. What does that mean ? Judo federations are power-hungry and control-freaks. They can very nasty or envious when their often political decisions fail to control everybody.
Here's just one example that occurred a long time ago. Imagine this ... for political reasons and personal manipulation two judoka do not get selected for the national team the federation wants to send to an International Open Tournament. Guess what ? The two judoka register themselves (which was completely legitimate) and decided to pay for their own travel transport, lodging registration. Outcome: no one in the official national team wins anything and the team returns home without a medal. Of the two judoka who were not selected by the federation, one athlete wins a gold medal, the other silver. How do you think a typical judo federation in its infinite wisdom would react to this ? With congratulations and encouragement and respect, you would think ? Right ...
This was one of the major starting points why it was lobbied within the EJU to curtail the freedom of individual judoists so that federations could better establish totalitarian control over everything and everyone. Of course, the real reason wasn't actually used in the discussion, just like the real reasons for the 1998 change in weight divisions was not revealed to the outside world or officially brought into the discussions.
There is something else that 'may' have influenced what is seen in the way categories are dealt with now in the US.
Following a verdict of the European Court of Justice in 1995 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosman_ruling) with regard to the free choice of travel and employment for all citizens of Europe within the EU, questions were raised about how some national federations in Europe restricted participation to certain judo tournaments to citizens only. From one side, there is the argument that how can someone be national champion of country X if he/she does not hold citizenship of country X; from the other side there is the argument, if individual Y is working in country X has established residency in country X, the should he travel all the way back each year for every tournament in coutry Y where he holds citizenship but where he does not resided ? If so, is this not in contradiction with the principle of free traffic of persons ?
This became even more a problem since a number of countries clearly followed other policies. It was also strange. Just look at European soccer and basketball. Half the players these days are imported. Got back somewhat in time and which clubs would nationally dominate basketball ? Those who had imported Americans. So the case of judo, trying to restrict particiation to national tournaments to citizens of their own country did not match what was seen in other countries and was also inconsistent depending on the country. The same applies to restricting membership of judo federations to citizens. If so, one would make it practically impossible for anyone who is not a citizen to legitimately do judo in the country where he lives. If you argue that that nothing keeps the person from taking a license in his country of citizenship and then practice abroad where he lives, that is not quite true. It is not true because in most federations in Europe you cannot individually apply for a license; it has to be done through a club. In addition, the rules of the federation and its insurance may be such that your insurance may be restricted to your own country unless your are part of the national team officially sent out for participation in a tournament abroad by your federation. Clearly continuous participation in judo activity abroad, with 'abroad' referring to the country where you live but of which you do not hold citizenship, do not fall within that category. The absence of being insured either being insured oneself or liablility towards other judoka, would then effectively preclude participation in judo in any country but your own, unless you were a member of a national team on official business, or there was some special letter of dispensation from the sending and receiving judo federation, or you would find a 'friendly' judo club willing to let you participate "without anyone knowing".
Years ago someone went to court because he was denied permission to participate in national championships of the country where he resided but did not hold citizenship. He won the law suit and in consequence of that all federations in Europe were recommended to adapt their regulations in accordance. Many, perhaps most, have since. It may very well be that what is being seen in terms of changes in the US has something to do with this. Even though the US obviously is not subject to European jurisdiction regarding anything that happens within its own territorial confines, one should not forget that the IJF is European-dominated, and it may very well be that there have been IJF "recommendations" in particular if there was a likelihood for non-Americans particularly from Europe who were planning on participating since in case of lawsuits from them, the EJU/IJF is at risk. I am not at all saying that in the end this was solved in the best possible way (clearly if a domestic person would have to pay more than an international player, that seems at first side odd, although it isn't exactly clear what the rationale is; whether the different treatment of people on the basis of nationality automatically amounts to discrimination has been debated since long. There a numerous cases where such differences exist and where they are commonly embraced by US citizens. One of the most well-known case are the eligibility requirements to run for president. He needs to be a natural born citizen of the US. Clearly that is a totally different treatment rule not just of people of different nationality, but even of people of the same nationality depending on whether they were naturalized or not. In fact one could argue that this instals a "quality difference" between citizenship that was obtained later or not, and whether a naturalized citizen is truly a citizen now that not all rights are extended to them. The classification "enemy combatants" or how to what extent someone who is not a citizen but just a visitor can invoke the first or fifth amendment suggest that there are numerous instances where law and courts apparently justify different treatment of people based on nationality). Do not get me wrong, I am not DEFENDING this, I am only drawing people's attention that things may be a bit more complicated than what is visible at first sight. Apart from that, I think it is an excellent idea for people to sue judo federations. They should do so a lot more as it is the only thing that has proven to work in breaking the erratic and often totalitatian and pseudo-feudal attitude that judo federations like to exhibit. That being said, I do not recommend baseless suing either. At the least, one should first ask and receive a prompt and honest clarification as to why something is the way it is. It is not because something is not known to a large group that there might be malicious motives behind something. Poor communication on behalf of the federation is a bad thing, but responding to that with legal action may not be the most constructive way forward either, in particular if those implementing the rule had an honest intention to do good to the wider community and honestly yet perhaps erroneously thought that their idea was for the betterment of something.