Sir Roger Bannister condemned Britain as a 'nation of the contentedly unfit' and insisted that more sport was the answer to the 'yob culture' and the country's epidemic of heart disease.
Sir Roger, who broke the four-minute mile 40 years ago, said sport could turn youngsters into hard-working, healthy adults with due respect for the law and good manners.
But it was a 'habit' which needed to be learned early and children should be compelled to acquire it. He told the Headmasters' Conference in Bournemouth: 'Unless there is an element of compulsion with physical education, children are unlikely to reach a point where they want to take sport seriously. For every one child who may be put off by compulsory sport, there will be nine others sufficiently well taught to delight in their own skill and repay the benefits of this training over a lifetime.'
Sir Roger, who at 65 is still a regular cyclist, defended competition in sport, which he said was 'scorned and derided' in some schools.
'Some children do find competitive sport difficult. But even if pupils lack the skills to succeed in sport, life itself brings reverses. Sport is a way of learning to accept them with grace.'
He said a fitter nation would also be a more productive one, with children going on to become better workers, and less prone to heart disease. 'There is now no respectable argument against the view that exercise reduces the risk of heart disease.'