Salvatore ‘Sam’ Coffa AM JP


Awarded Life Membership 17 November 2012


Birth: 15 January 1936, Ferla, Italy


Sam Coffa has devoted his life to the sport of weightlifting and the Commonwealth Games movement, so much so that in many circles Sam became known as ‘Mr Commonwealth Games’.

Born in Ferla, Italy, sponsored by his uncle, Sam migrated to Australia in 1952 at the age of 16 years where he initially boarded with a family in Liddiard Street, Hawthorn. He joined the Hawthorn City Band which commenced his long association with the community in the area.

Sam, his father Francesco, and brother Paul opened a boot repairing business in Glenferrie Road in 1954. They specialised in surgical boot making.

His first foray into weightlifting came the Melbourne 1956 Olympics where he volunteered as a doorman at the Royal Exhibition Building which hosted the weightlifting competition.

He soon became a member of the Hawthorn Boys’ Club, (later known as Hawthorn Citizens’ Youth Club) and was a driving force for the inclusion of young women into the club. Sam was elected President in 1964 and Secretary in 1967, the latter a position he held for many years. Sam was also the driving force behind the establishment of a new Hawthorn Community Recreation Centre situated beside the Glenferrie Oval.

Over the years Sam has been associated with many other community organisations, particularly those based in Hawthorn. He is a long-time member of the Hawthorn Historical Society and was Mayor of the City of Hawthorn on two occasions (1079-1980 and 1986-1987, the first citizen from continental Europe to hold the position.  He was a councillor for 4 years.

As a weightlifter, Sam won 11 Victorian and six national titles and represented Australia at the 1964 world championships, the Perth 1962 Commonwealth Games and the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games. He was also Victorian champion in his weight division from 1959 until 1969 and a six-time Australian champion. He was Section Manager in Edinburgh in 1970 – where Australian lifters won four of the six gold medals on offer.

He went on to serves at the Edinburgh 1986, Auckland 1990, Victoria 1994, and Kuala Lumpur 1998 Games as a Technical Official.

Across a distinguished career as a sports administrator, he has held almost every leadership or administrative-level position within weightlifting and the Australian Commonwealth Games Association.

Sam joined the ACGA Executive Committee/Board of Management in 1983, serving until he became President in 1998 where Sam became the driving force behind Australia’s successful bids for the 2006 and 2018 Games, serving as deputy chairman of both organising committees.

The benefits derived by the Games movement and the broader community due to his vision and leadership cannot be overstated. Through the sale of its marketing rights to the Victorian and Queensland State Governments the CGA (and its Foundation), established a legacy fund valued at more than $60m, with distributions of more than $44m to member sports and their athletes, with more than $10m of that going to junior athletes under his presidency. He was a founding Director of the Australian Commonwealth Games Foundation Board and Chairman from 1998.

Australia’s ability to host the Commonwealth Games twice in 12 years is largely due to Sam’s ability to galvanise support and lead strong Games delivery partnerships and to his strong focus on putting athletes first, ensuring that Australia will always be recognised as hospitable and highly competent Games hosts.

Sam stepped down as President following the success of the Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.

As well as his extended period at the helm of CGA, he was president of the Victorian Commonwealth Games Federation from 1986 to 1998.

As president of the Australian Weightlifting Federation from 1983 to 2007, vice-president of the International Weightlifting Federation from 1992 to 2017 and president of the Commonwealth Weightlifting Federation from 1990 to 1994, he championed change to improve gender parity.

As chairman of the IWF Women’s Commission, he was instrumental in gaining approval for the introduction of women’s events at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He was a driving force behind the introduction of an equal number of men’s and women’s categories in world, Olympic and Commonwealth competition and in making it easier for women to become involved as technical officials.

Other inclusivity initiatives include championing changes to apparel regulations allowing more women of Islamic faith to compete internationally. He has been widely regarded as the technical doyen of international weightlifting, continually improving the sport with many innovations, including the implementation of the 1kg rule and removal of the bodyweight advantage rule which revolutionised the presentation of weightlifting competitions around the globe, improving the spectator experience.

Sam was awarded the Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1988 ‘For service to sport, in particular weightlifting, youth and the community’.

In 1999 he was named by the Confederation of Australian Sport as one of the most influential people in Australian sport.

In 2000 he was awarded the Australian Sports Medal for ‘Outstanding contribution as a competitor (weightlifting) and an official’.

He became a Life Member of Weightlifting Australia and Weightlifting Victoria and the Victorian State Division of Commonwealth Games Australia, and was inducted into the International Weightlifting Hall of Fame (Official) in 2009.

In 2018 Sam was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame as a General Member.

Late in 2018, Commonwealth Games Federation President, Dame Louise Martin CBE paid tribute to Sam: “Tonight, I am thanking Commonwealth Games Australia – and of course, Sam Coffa – for all your vision, leadership, guidance and support. And tonight, I am not only thanking Sam for his friendship, but also for all his achievements as President of Commonwealth Games Australia for the past 20 years – not least at Gold Coast 2018… Sam, you are going out on a high; a personal best; and above all and in every sense, with everything you have achieved, and everything you have given back – one of the finest of Commonwealth athletes”.


CGF President Louise Martin CBE made a moving and special tribute to outgoing CGA President Sam Coffa AM JP at the 2018 Commonwealth Games Australia President’s Dinner at the MCG last week.


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