10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations match in February, while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
At the launch of the new Institute programmes he spoke passionately about the need to provide adequate support for those athletes who dedicate themselves to representing Ireland at the highest level across all sports.
"Any sporting career is short-lived and we must ensure that these high achievers take the skills they have honed on the pitch and on the track into their life after sport," Wood explained.
"These new programmes will help athletes successfully complete their education and put them on the pathway to a successful second career.
"This also then frees them up to concentrate on their sport without worrying about their futures outside sport."
The three support programmes (life-skills coaching, athlete scholarships and career development) are partnerships across the education sector and the employment market.
Phil Moore, the Institute of Sport's Director of Athlete Services, designed the programmes to extend the world-class support environment for Irish athletes to their lives outside sport.
Moore's work addresses the findings of a study commissioned by the Institute of Sport and carried out by Professor Aidan Moran and Dr. Suzanne Guerin (both at the Department of Psychology, UCD). It outlined the key experiences of Ireland's elite athletes, many of whom are Beijing-bound for this year's Olympics.
The study concluded that there are many positive aspects of the current system of elite sport. However, there were areas that needed urgent attention, namely education and career support.
One third of the athletes reported that they had experienced problems with gaining an education at third level and two-thirds thought that competing for Ireland had negatively impacted on their career opportunities.
The Institute programmes, unveiled today, will address the education issues through an Athlete Scholarship programme in partnership with third level universities and colleges to provide flexible learning and assessment.
UCD Director of Sport Brian Mullins, speaking on behalf of third level institutions, said: "For many years, the 'Third Level' has supported student-athletes through a variety of scholarships and informal means.
"This new programme brings a national dimension to bear on the difficulties faced by elite athletes in successfully combining their sport and education.
"In particular, the flexibility in learning and assessment, together with combined planning and mentoring will put our athletes in a position to compete on a level playing field with competitors in other countries."
The employment and second career issues will be tackled through a deal with industry-leading recruitment consultants Top People.
This ground-breaking partnership will see Top People bring their expertise in career development to assist athletes identify their potential through in-depth profiling, analysis, guidance and coaching.
The Institute's Executive Chairman Sean Kelly said: "Our aim at the Institute is to create a world class environment for our top athletes. That includes supports in their lives outside sport.
"The aim of these programmes is to remove the uncertainty about their futures in education or career and I'm confident they will have a major impact on our athletes."
Phil Moore, the Institute's Director of Athlete Services, added: "We have taken 12 months to research the current experiences and needs of elite Irish athletes and we have put together a package of support systems that meets the unique circumstances that prevail in this country.
"It would have been easy enough to simply copy what has been done elsewhere, and whilst we have cherry-picked the best, we were always committed to delivering a bespoke solution that would best fit the needs of Irish athletes."
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