Metro South Africans pull for smooth World Cup

With the first toe-tap of the ball on June 11, scores of metro Atlantans will fixate for a full month on soccer's World Cup.

Most will focus on the swirling action, the scoreboards and the group standings. For the rest, bound by a shared heritage, it's how South Africa will grade out as host nation of the globe's most avidly followed single-sport happening.

Members and guests of the nascent South African-American Chamber of Commerce assembled recently to hear details of local events connected with the Cup nearly 10,000 miles away. An undercurrent of tense anticipation, much like Atlantans sensed in the lead-up to the 1996 Summer Olympics, permeated the crowd.

"I think it's going to be wonderful [but] I'm a little bit nervous," said Derrick Jackson, the chamber's executive director.

The prospect of a successfully run tournament, he said, "is hanging over the edge." In the end, he hopes, "This will give South Africa the credibility they deserve."

Chief concerns include transportation and safety. South Africa lacks the infrastructure that will allow comfortable commutes for Cup-goers.

"Transportation will be a major issue," Jackson said.

South Africa notoriously ranks among the most crime-ridden nations, statistically in the top two in murders and assaults per capita.

"I'm scared of the crime. People will have to be cautious," said Marlene Erridge, who otherwise voiced confidence in her former countrymen.

The Dubovskys, Marilyn and Benjy, are of two minds. She fretted about crime. "The country is great," she added, "but they spent money on the wrong things. Not enough on roads, too much on stadiums. I would hate for South Africa to look bad."

Not to worry, said her husband. "This will go well." The Cup, he assured, "is a shot in the arm" for South Africa.

The number of native South Africans in the metro area is pure guesswork, with chamber members tossing out estimates ranging from 20,000 to 50,000. By and large, they blend into Atlanta life and tend not to gather on their own.

One of few umbrella organizations for South Africans is the chamber, started in early 2009 to foster the growth of businesses expanding or relocating to Atlanta. Co-founder Toni Castel, a business immigration attorney, said social, political and cultural issues present challenges for them.

"There are so many hurdles for these guys to have to overcome," she said.

The chamber has latched on to the World Cup to promote itself. The drum-banging -- literally and figuratively -- begins with a display of South African culture at a party on the night of June 11 at the World Trade Center Atlanta. (Hours earlier, the South African team kick-starts the Cup with a match against Mexico.)

Next day, 20 makeshift adult soccer teams representing bi-national chambers of commerce and international consulates in Atlanta will tangle at the Silverbacks Park on Northcrest Road. Proceeds will go to SOS Children's Villages USA, which offers families and homes to orphaned and abandoned children. The worldwide charity, with an office in Atlanta, maintains a partnership with FIFA, soccer's global governing body.

Participating restaurants and bars carrying telecasts of the games throughout the month will donate revenue to SOS as well.

The soccer fest culminates with a big-screens viewing party of the finals on July 11. Only the most optimistic of transplanted South Africans expect their longshot team to reach the championship match. So their best-case scenario is to breathe a sigh of relief after a job well done by the hosts back home.