Shortlisted for Arjuna, once-banned Bhokanal feels vindicated – other sports

Last year around this time, international rower Dattu Bhokanal was in choppy waters, facing an uncertain future. The Asian Games gold medallist was in the wilderness after the Rowing Federation of India (RFI) had banned him for two years for allegedly tanking a race. On Friday, life has come full circle for the rower from Chandwad in Nashik district of Maharashtra as he was shortlisted for the Arjuna Award by the sports ministry, putting a seal of approval on his achievements. He will be receiving the award along with others in a virtual programme on August 29.

Bhokanal, who was a member of the men’s quadruple sculls team that won gold at 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, was accused of pulling out of the single sculls race midway earlier in the Games. Bhokanal had claimed that his boat had overturned on the day of the competition and he was not in right frame of mind for the single sculls race and wanted to preserve energy for the quadruple sculls event a few days later. However, his protestations were rejected and he was thrown out of the sport for two years. He was also accused of trying to get cash award from the government and had to accept his mistake.

With his ban overturned following intervention of the IOA Athletes Commission in January 2020, Bhokanal had come into reckoning for the Tokyo Olympics before the Novel Coronavirus pandemic threw a spanner in the works.

The Arjuna Award has come like an icing on the cake for Bhokanal.

He feels he has vindicated and can now pursue his dreams with renewed gusto.

“Truth has prevailed. I feel I have been vindicated. I had not committed any mistake but was accused of a heinous act. By giving me this award the government has accepted that I had done nothing wrong,” Bhokanal said.

The 29-year-old, who is currently with the Army rowing unit at Pune awaiting for a nod for the national camp to reassemble, thanked the RFI forits support. “There was a conspiracy against me and by recommending my name for the Arjuna Award, my federation has absolved me of any wrongdoing. I am very thankful to RFI and the Sports Ministry. This is a big boost for me and I will now chase my dream with renewed vigor. If I continue to get the support from the federation and government, I am sure I will win more laurels for the country,” said Bhokanal.

Bhokanal has kept himself in prime fitness during the Covid-19 lock down by engaging in farming activities at his ancestral village. “I had to do something to keep myself fit during the lock down. Being a water-based sport, it is difficult for us to have all the equipment at home. So, farming was the next best exercise as I could not sit idle at home after completing the task assigned to me by the coaches during the daily meeting over video conference,” said Bhokanal, who comes from one of the most arid districts of the state.

Bhokanal is now looking forward to qualifying for next year’s Tokyo Olympics. His hopes have soared following the Arjuna Award and the rower says he wants to give his best shot in the next international competition.

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