Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, chairman of the Atlanta Olympic Organizing Committee, said yesterday that if an integrated South Africa made its first Olympic appearance at his city's 1996 Summer Games, "it would be a very happy story for me.

"I welcome it, I work for it," Young, the former mayor of Atlanta and a prominent civil rights leader, said in a telephone interview. "I think it would be a very good thing. I doubt it could be 1992, because they're not far enough along in ending apartheid. But I believe South Africa could be in good enough shape to be in Atlanta in 1996."

The International Olympic Committee announced Sunday it will send a five-member delegation to meet formally with South African political and sports leaders in Johannesburg in April. This unprecedented action will be the first official contact between the IOC and South Africa since the country was expelled from the IOC in 1970 because of its policy of apartheid.

The IOC's belief has been that apartheid must be abolished before South Africa is allowed back into the Games for the first time since 1960. In fact, there is no doubt within the international sports community that the IOC will continue to toe a very hard line against South Africa until it embraces racial equality. But because South Africa President F.W. de Klerk recently has been moving his country toward racial unity, international sports officials have begun making contact with their South African counterparts.

"The IOC has been very, very solid in its support of multiracial sport and multiracial society," Young said. "Anything short of that would disqualify South Africa from participating in the Olympic Games. I have no concern that the IOC is moving too quickly. I think a boycott must be accompanied by a continuing dialogue, whether it's South Africa or Saddam Hussein. People need to know what they have to do to end the boycott."

Arthur Ashe, the former tennis player who visited South Africa with Young in 1974, also praised the opening of relations between the IOC and the isolated nation.

"Potentially, it can mean quite a bit," Ashe said. "You're talking to someone who grew up in the South and saw the potential and power of sports to be an icebreaker in integrating society."

But he doesn't believe South Africa, now presented with the prospect of the Olympics in exchange for the abolition of apartheid, will change quickly.

"I don't think anything will happen until the legal pillars of apartheid come down," he said. "I think there is very little chance of South Africa being in the 1992 Olympics. That will be too soon. But there is no question they are moving in the right direction."

He said he expects South Africa to field its first Olympic team in 1996.

"They'll be there, with teams based on merit selection," he said.

The IOC's delegation to South Africa is composed of three representatives of black Africa: Judge Keba Mbaye of Senegal, chairman of the IOC's anti-apartheid commission; Jean-Claude Ganga of the Congo, head of the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa; and Major General Henry Adefope of Nigeria. The other two members are Kevan Gosper, an IOC vice president from Australia; and Francois Carrard, the IOC's deputy general.

When he was told the names of those going to South Africa, Young said: "That's a good, solid delegation. The IOC always has reflected the concerns of the black African nations."

Euphoria over the South African developments does not mean the nation will travel an easy path directly to re-entry in the Olympics, Young said. As South African athletes prepare for the Games, Young wondered if training facilities "would be available to all athletes?"

That, he said, is a concern that must be answered before South Africa comes back to the Olympic fold.

He said when the nation holds its Olympic trials they must be open to everyone, "a full opportunity." Young believes that international observers won't be necessary as long as routine procedures established by international sports federations are followed.

"I think the South African sports community can handle this," Young said. "My question is, 'Will the political community not only tolerate, but facilitate, the integration of sports and politics in their country?' That's what we need to find out."