In troubled waters since the 2018 Asian Games, India’s leading rower Dattu Bhokannal was expecting a change in fortune when he was conferred with Arjuna Award last year. The award meant the world to him as it came shortly after Rowing Federation of India’s ban on him for allegedly tanking a race at the Asiad — where he also claimed gold in the team quadruple sculls event — was revoked. The federation dropped the ban in January 2020 on the request of the union sports ministry on the grounds of what he has achieved for the nation.
However, with COVID-19 pandemic bringing the world to a standstill, the 29-year-old rower’s agonising wait to train and compete again was put on a hold. To rejig reader’s memory, the athlete also made headlines during the pandemic when he sanitised his entire village in Maharashtra and turned to farming to keep himself fit.
Lending a helping hand: Rower Dattu Bhokanal goes on sanitisation drive at native village
Bad days, however, were far from over for the five-time national champion, who finished 15th in the 2016 Olympics, as he was excluded from the national camp in Pune again on disciplinary grounds last November.
And more than five months later, when he was ignored for the selection trials for the Tokyo Olympics qualifying event (May 5-7 in Tokyo) and subsequently not being picked for the Indian squad, Dattu couldn’t hold back his pain while seeing his Olympic dreams drift away.
“It’s painful to watch the way I am being treated. Since being pushed out of the national camp, now I am being not informed of the selection trials too,” said Dattu, who serves as Naik Subedar in Indian Army. “My Olympic dreams are being killed by people who are supposed to get me closer to it and I am starting to feel helpless now.”
Despite the rower breaking down, the charges on him for being dropped from the camp are quite grave. The federation reportedly has accused him of not changing his behaviour upon return to the camp following the ban and was also blamed for staying away from the camp without permission.
While RFI officials have refused to talk on record on the issue, a federation official, on the condition of anonymity, also said Dattu’s performance hasn’t been at the same level since his return and wasn’t focussing on training and left the camp soon after joining while disturbing the bio-secure bubble at the ARN Camp in Pune.
However, the rower argued that all his mistake was to ask for a two-day leave to treat a knee injury but RFI was having none of it.
“I requested for a two-day leave to meet my personal doctor for my injury and got but I wasn’t allowed to leave the camp (understood to be over the COVID-19 restrictions for the bio-secure bubble). I was instead verbally asked to leave the camp and since then I wasn’t allowed to come back. My fellow campers were allowed to be on 8-10 days leave but I wasn’t granted the same. I was willing to serve the 14-day quarantine period on return but my plea was ignored,” said the rower.
Before concluding, the rower further added that he wrote two emails to RFI since being out of the camp, requesting in written the reason behind him being left out of the camp but the federation hasn’t received any replies yet.