Jeff Goodman, Bakersfield, March 21, 2011
Arie and Nigel Kapoor have an Indian father and Indian friends. They’ve participated for years in the local Indian community. But at a soccer tournament last weekend, the brothers weren’t quite Indian enough.
Their team, the Bakersfield Lightning, was disqualified and forced to forfeit its game after the opposing squad’s coach complained about the Kapoor brothers’ genes.
The boys’ father, Sunny, is from India. But their mother is American, and the event’s organizer said that was against the rules this year.
Satnum Manku, coordinator of the fourth annual Bakersfield Soccer Cup, said Thursday a rule sheet was sent to participants a month before the invitational tournament. One of the conditions: No half-Indian players allowed.
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The issue didn’t arise until after halftime Saturday, when the game was stopped and the Lightning was told it had violated the eligibility rule.
Julie Kapoor, the boys’ mother and a longtime Bakersfield resident, said her sons previously had never faced exclusion as a result of their mixed background.
“This was ridiculous,” she said. “It’s supposed to be fun and recreational.”
The organizer argued that the influx of non-Indian talent, which he said has included semi-professional players with fake identification cards, compromises that goal. And so the rule was born.
Similar restrictions, however, are in place for other tournaments in the state, Manku said.
Some of them, for example, allow a certain number of non-Indian players per team. He even knows of at least one such event in California that only permits players who are Punjabi, a subset of the Indian population.
Manku said he and his staff try to determine a disputed player’s Indian background by asking for his birth certificate, which shows the names of both parents.
“It’s not a good rule,” he said. “But the other teams said, ‘If you guys don’t keep this rule, we won’t come to play.’ So we had to keep the rule.”
Kapoor, manager at the Park Plaza Executive Offices on Oak Street, has been married to Sunny for nearly 25 years and has visited her husband’s home country.
The two have raised their children to be “color-blind,” Kapoor said, and the boys have embraced their father’s heritage.
“They don’t know the language, but they know that’s their culture,” Kapoor said. “And they’ve always been comfortable being around Indians. . . . For them to be rejected, it’s appalling.”
“It causes pause,” Nichols said. “It makes you wonder if we’re headed in the right direction.”