The Four Minute Mile’s Importance for Internal Auditing

Ladies and gentlemen,

here is the result of event 9, the one-mile:
1st, No. 41, R.G. Bannister, Amateur Athletic Association and formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, Oxford,
with a time which is a new meeting
and track record,
and which – subject to ratification – will be
a new English Native,
British National,
All-Comers,
European,
British Empire,
and World Record.
The time was 3…

The crowd roared – the four minute mile (1,609.344 metres, 5,280 feet) had been broken.

The historic event took place on Thursday May 6th, 1954 during a meet between British Amateur Athletics Association and Oxford Univery at the Iffley Road Track in Oxford, England.

The breaking of the – until then – unimaginable four minute mile is rated as one of the great sporting achievements of the 20th century.

It should also be considered one of the great stories of measurement and verification of the 20th century.

***

In 2004, former 200 metre world record holder – Peter Radford – now a Professor of Sports Studies at Brunel University (and a former Chairman of UKAthletics) proposed – based on an examination of sports entries of newspapers and magazines, dating back to the 18th century – that the first four minute mile was actually run in 1770 by a man called James Parrot.

Parrot ran on the streets on London on a course still visible today – a flat course on a wide road.

The issue was that such records and events were not ratifiable and hence – the concept of records (and possibly measurable process improvement) was not well developed and generally accepted.

With the establishment of the British Amateur Athletics Association and the formalisation of athletics around 1880, a very standardised sport on a very standardised running track was born.

Bannister was the first person to run in standardised conditions where a dispassionate, yet interested, observer could verify all of the details.

***

The above case study has an interesting analogy to internal auditing.

Can we as auditors seek to assess / verify the true nature of the event that we are reviewing if we don’t standardised criteria against which to make our judgement?

If that standardised criteria doesn’t exist are our views condemned to the treacherous valley of subjectivity when what we are paid for is to be an independent commentator free of bias.

***

As an aside – and keep in mind that this post is written by an Australian – Bannister’s record lasted for 46 days before being beaten by the brilliant Australian runner, John Landy.

Currently, the mile record is held by Hicham El Guerrouj, who set a time of 3 minutes 43.13 seconds in Rome in 1999.

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