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Foster Backlash Shows Lack of Sensitivity

The level of ignorance and lack of empathy, understanding and sensitivity by many South Africans regarding the Lyle Foster mental health situation is disturbing.

Foster was just included in Hugo Broos’ provisional Bafana Bafana squad for the upcoming games against Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

For those not clued up about the whole scenario, Foster, who plays for Burnley, ‘withdrew’ from all football for a period in 2023 to deal with mental health issues. It was made public by the club, who gave the striker his full support, and organised special treatment for the young man.

It was his first season in the English Premier League with Vincent Kompany’s team [who were just relegated], and the Bafana Bafana striker missed action from the end of October until mid-December as he dealt with personal issues.

This also led to him being unavailable for Bafana Bafana, and he was a notable absentee from Hugo Broos’ bronze medal-winning AFCON squad in Cote d’Ivoire in January and February.

Of course, Foster’s return to club action in England at this time led to conspiracy theories that it was all ‘an act’ so he could stay in play in England rather than make the AFCON trip.

Yep, and 5G caused the COVID-19 pandemic.

I wish I could say the ignorance only came from uninformed supporters, but it was also from those in the game and media – coaches, legends on radio shows, and even journalists. Many unfortunately do not understand mental health issues, and the sensitivity around conditions that people don’t talk about. While Kompany and Burnley explained the circumstances around Foster’s ‘managed’ return in a safe environment, the outcry was that Foster was snubbing the nation.

There was a strong ‘Cowboys don’t cry’ mentality. I had countless conversations with colleagues who doubted Foster’s condition (based on hearsay) and made their opinions abundantly clear on different platforms. It unfortunately showed the sub-standard level of knowledge on the condition, research done or understanding of the subject that we as the football fourth estate in South Africa had.

For context, the AFCON was not played between October and December 2023, so why did Foster skip football during that period?

Foster was an absentee for nine of Burnley’s fixtures during that 2023 period, and so by the conspiracy theorists’ ‘genius’ plots, it was all a ruse so he could feature in three or four games that the club played while the AFCON was being played.

Makes mathematical sense right? No, it doesn’t. And it is because it is a conspiracy.

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People also seemed to think when they saw him playing in the EPL again, he was ‘cured’.

Again, this despite Burnley making it clear that Foster’s treatment was an ongoing process and being managed carefully. It is why Foster suddenly jetting off to the AFCON for a month, without his support system, was never going to happen, unless SAFA were able to continue the treatment.

Mental health issues are valid, and as South Africans we should be more understanding, especially considering how many of our local players have gone off the rails in past years. Perhaps had they had treatment or support during that period so many gifted footballers wouldn’t have thrown their careers away? 

The reaction, from November already, especially at home, made me concerned about whether other young players with issues, would come forward when struggling?

I don’t pretend to understand what Foster has gone through, I am ignorant here too, but I do know that mental health issues are real. Suffering from depression is not the same as being depressed, just like being drunk is not the same as being an alcoholic, or being stoned and being an addict aren’t the same. 

While many South Africans show their ignorance about mental health, Foster has actually been lauded in the UK as a hero for coming forward with his situation, rather than hiding it, and was even honoured at prestigious awards this year for his bravery.

I am delighted to see Foster back in the Bafana squad, not just because I believe he makes the team stronger, but also because it means that the help he has been getting is working.

We should be celebrating that progress.

Rob Delport (@FMSouthAfrica).

Rob Delport
Rob Delport
Rob Delport is a walking football encyclopedia, having been a mainstay in the Cape Town football scene for years. Rob has previously worked for SABC and various websites and publications across Africa, as well as being the South African Head Researcher for Football Manager and doing a similar role occasionally for EA Sports FIFA. Highly respected, Rob is now a senior iDiski Times website and newspaper writer, and is also responsible for the newspaper's editorial.