Alan Hubbard

It is coming up for 63 years since a young junior doctor named Roger Bannister finished his morning rounds at Paddington Hospital and travelled to Oxford, where he became the History Man by breaking the four-minute mile barrier.

Aided and abetted by his running mates Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher, the then 25-year-old Bannister created a literal milestone in 3min 59.4sec on the evening of May 6, 1954.

That mark may have lasted only 46 days, but it is etched in the annals of sport for ever.

Bannister went on to become a distinguished neurologist, Master of Pembroke College, Oxford, and the first chair of the Sports Council - now Sport England - where he initiated the first testing in the UK for anabolic steroids. He was knighted in 1975.

When asked whether the first sub-four minute mile was his proudest achievement, he said he felt prouder of his contribution to academic medicine through research into the responses of the nervous system.

One of the last true Corinthians, one doubts that Sir Roger ever swallowed as much as an aspirin in his race preparations and he certainly didn’t get any back-handers for his athletic endeavours. Not even a brown envelope. None were in evidence in his day.

Sport has changed dramatically since he majestically strode the track at Iffley Road. Occasionally for the better but more often than not for the worse. Far worse.

This must have crossed the still-active mind of the 87-year-old, now confined to a wheelchair suffering from Parkinson’s and crippled by arthritis, as he went to Buckingham Palace a couple of weeks ago to receive one of the highest honours nation can bestow - becoming a Companion of Honour (CH) .

He is now one of only 53 current holders of the award - among them Lord Coe, Dame Mary Peters, Dame Vera Lynn and Sir David Attenborough - given for distinguished service to the country.

Unsurprisingly, he has voiced his concern over doping and drug cheats in sport saying: "I'm only sorry in some aspects that there are problems with drugs and that is something which is an extreme sadness to me.

Sir Roger Bannister, front, with his family after receiving Companion of Honour at Buckingham Palace last month ©Getty Images
Sir Roger Bannister, front, with his family after receiving Companion of Honour at Buckingham Palace last month ©Getty Images

"I hope that Wada (World Anti-Doping Agency) and Usada (US Anti-Doping Agency) will be successful in bringing this to an end.

"It pains me a lot, but I still believe there is something very healthy underneath the whole of this activity and I long to see this brought into ascendancy again."

One can only admire his optimism. And wonder what he thought a few days later when he glanced at the back page of the Sunday Times devoted to three stories above which the headlines read "Cycle of deception", "Impassé over Mo samples" and "It’s time Coe started living in the real world".

Is there a significant sport which in the years since Bannister retired to concentrate on his medical career that hasn’t been besmirched by scandals embracing doping, gross financial corruption or match-fixing? Even paedophilia.

Sporting nobility seems to be taking a lot of the flak. Bannister’s fellow knights Sir Mo Farah, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Sir Dave Brailsford are under intense scrutiny while Lord Coe has been fighting a rearguard action against assorted innuendo since the day he took office as International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) president.

Farah’s continuing association with the US coach Alberto Salazar, whose deeply controversial methods have long been the subject of probes, is under constant criticism as Sir Mo has not ended the relationship.

"Coach accused of endangering Mo with drugs" ran the latest Sunday Times headline. This time on the front page.

But is cycling, the sport that was once Sky high in the estimation of the British public, that has been embattled most of all, savaged by parliamentary investigation.

Former British Cycling chief and now Team Sky leader Sir Dave has become branded as sport’s “Sir Shifty” as he fails to satisfy a parliamentary committee about, among other things, his knowledge of what was in that mysterious jiffy bag delivered to Wiggins before a race in the French Alps in July 2011.

UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) have said they are investigating suggestions that it may have been a banned steroid while Team Sky insist it was a legal decongestant.

Anti-doping questions continue to surround Sir Dave Brailsford and Team Sky ©Getty Images
Anti-doping questions continue to surround Sir Dave Brailsford and Team Sky ©Getty Images

However, proper records have not been kept about medical substances given to riders and the team doctor’s laptop said to have recorded such information was apparently stolen while he was in holiday.

This week, the chair of the that parliamentary committee, Damian Collins MP, said: ”The more we know about the package the less sense it makes.”

Earlier he had declared: “The credibility of Team Sky and British Cycling is in tatters.”

Cycling, once the bee’s knees of British sport, has become the bête noire amid allegations of possible doping cover-ups, sexism and bullying, much to the embarrassment of funding body UK Sport, which for so long championed it as the example the rest of sport should live up to.

The Russians must be laughing their socks off. No smoke without fire, they would say, particularly when both the broadsheets and the tabloids are raising the alarm.

Of course it must be emphasised that neither Wiggins nor Team Sky have been found guilty of any doping infringement but so far they have not escaped the scandal that has enveloped them.

As one distinguished columnist put it cycling is “wriggling like a fish on the hook.....Team Sky took a lot of us for suckers”.

Braking Point indeed.

When he observes the mess that so much of sport is in today Sir Roger Bannister,CBE, CH, must be relieved he performed in an era when sporting cleanliness was next to godliness.

And if he was asked to preside over it now as he was back in 1971 no doubt he would run a mile.