Cap (sport)

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Various international honours caps

In sport, a cap is a player's appearance in a game at international level. The term dates from the practice in the United Kingdom of awarding a cap to every player in an international match of association football. In the early days of football, the concept of each team wearing a set of matching shirts had not been universally adopted, so each side would distinguish itself from the other by wearing a specific sort of cap.

An early illustration of the first international football match between Scotland and England in 1872 shows the Scottish players wearing cowls, and the English wearing a variety of school caps. The practice was first approved on 10 May 1886 for association football after a proposal made by N. Lane Jackson, founder of the Corinthians:

That all players taking part for England in future international matches be presented with a white silk cap with red rose embroidered on the front. These to be termed International Caps.[1]

The act of awarding a cap is now international and is applied to other sports. Although in some sports physical caps may not now always be given (whether at all or for each appearance) the term "cap" for an international or other appearance has been retained as an indicator of the number of occasions on which a sportsperson has represented a team in a particular sport. Thus, a "cap" is awarded for each game played and so a player who has played x games, for the team, is said to have been capped x times or have won x caps.

The practice of awarding a physical cap varies from sport to sport. It may be awarded before a player's debut or, particularly for national teams, a commemorative cap may be awarded after a player reaches the 100th cap.[2][3]

Association football[]

Some men's association football teams still awards physical caps. Players are awarded one cap for every match they play — unless they play in a World Cup or European Championship finals tournament, then they are given a single cap for the competition, with the names of all their opponents stitched into the fabric of the cap itself. For example, when David Beckham made his one-hundredth appearance for England, because a number of his appearances had been at World Cup and European Championship final tournaments for which he could only receive one cap, he received only his 85th physical cap.[4] In Scotland, for many years the practice was to present caps only for appearances in the British Home Championship, meaning that several players never received one (including those in their 1958 FIFA World Cup squad); this anomaly was rectified retrospectively in the 2000s after pressure from players' families.[5][6][7]

FIFA recognises certain international games as ones where a player can be awarded a cap - these games are regarded as International “A” games. These are matches in which both nations field their first Representative Team.[8]


The world record holder for the highest number of international caps as of 5 November 2010 is retired American player Kristine Lilly, who has 354 caps. In men's association football, the record belongs to Bader Al-Mutawa of Kuwait; he surpassed Ahmad Hassan with his 184th cap on 27 March 2012. The first footballer to win 100 international caps was Billy Wright of England's Wolverhampton Wanderers. Wright went on to appear 105 times for England, 90 of them he obtained whilst he was a captain.

Bold denotes players currently active in international football.


As in association football, cricket still awards a physical cap. Caps are awarded both at international and domestic level, however the criteria for winning a cap differs between international and domestic cricket.

In international cricket, a player is awarded a cap for every appearance made. It is common for a player to be presented with their cap in a ceremony on the first morning of their maiden Test match, although a physical cap may not be presented for every occasion on which a player represents his country. International caps are numbered according to the number of players who have represented the country before. For example, cap number 50 is awarded to the fiftieth player to represent the country.[1]

In some domestic cricket competitions, caps are also awarded. However, they are not awarded automatically for every appearance made, but instead at the discretion of the administrators of the club for whom the recipient plays, and are a one-off recognition that the recipient is now a regular, established player for the club. The most prevalent example of this system is in English county cricket, in which many First Class counties award a "county cap" to players.

As of April 2021, 70 players have won 100 or more caps in Test cricket.


Players still active at Test level are in bold type.

Rugby union[]

In rugby union, 64 players have reached 100 international caps as of 27 Oct 2019. Players from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland are eligible for selection to the British and Irish Lions touring squad. Lions matches are classed as full international tests, and caps are awarded. The Pacific Islanders team, composed of players from Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Niue and Cook Islands have a similar arrangement, although no players involved have so far reached 100 caps (Fijian Nicky Little is closest with 71 caps).

Players still active at Test level are in bold type.

As of 8 June 2020[12]
Most caps in men's rugby union
Rank Caps Name Country Career
1 149 Alun Wyn Jones  Wales
 British and Irish Lions
2 148 Richie McCaw  New Zealand 2001–2015
3 142 Sergio Parisse  Italy 2002–2019
4 141 Brian O'Driscoll  Ireland
 British and Irish Lions
5 139 George Gregan  Australia 1994–2007
6 134 Gethin Jenkins  Wales
 British and Irish Lions
7 132 Keven Mealamu  New Zealand 2002–2015
8 130 Ronan O'Gara  Ireland
 British and Irish Lions
9 129 Stephen Moore  Australia 2005–2017
10 127 Victor Matfield  South Africa 2001–2015
Kieran Read  New Zealand 2008–2019

Rugby league[]

The International Rugby League honours players that have made 50 international appearances in their career with a special golden cap.[13] The record for most caps is held by former Australian Kangaroos player & captain Darren Lockyer with 59 matches.

Players still active at Test level are in bold type.

As of 8 June 2020
Most caps in men's rugby league
Rank Caps Name Country Career
1 59 Darren Lockyer Australia Australia 1998–2011
2 56 Cameron Smith Australia Australia 2006–2017
3 55 Ruben Wiki New Zealand New Zealand 1994–2006
4 54 Jim Sullivan Wales Wales
United Kingdom Great Britain
England England
5 53 James Graham United Kingdom Great Britain
England England
Adrian Morley United Kingdom Great Britain
England England
7 51 Adam Blair New Zealand New Zealand 2006–2019
Petero Civoniceva Australia Australia
Fiji Fiji
9 50 Mick Sullivan United Kingdom Great Britain
England England
10 46 Puig Aubert France France 1946–1956
Gary Freeman New Zealand New Zealand 1986–1996
Stacey Jones New Zealand New Zealand 1995–2006
Mal Meninga Australia Australia 1982–1994


Physical caps are not distributed by the International Netball Federation but the term is still widely used to signify appearances. Irene van Dyk has won the most international caps having represented two nations after her switch to the Silver Ferns, a move that was allowed as the INF rules only prohibited players from representing two nations in one calendar year. Mary Waya is the only other woman to have earned over 200 caps in her thirty year career, with exact numbers being difficult to confirm.[14]

Players still active at Test level are in bold type.

As of 7 July 2020
Most caps in women's international netball
Rank Caps Name Country Career
1 217 Irene van Dyk South Africa South Africa (72)
New Zealand New Zealand (145)
2 205 Mary Waya Malawi Malawi 1984–2014
3 176 Jade Clarke England England 2002–
4 159 Nadine Bryan Jamaica Jamaica 1997–
5 151 Laura Langman New Zealand New Zealand 2003–2020
6 150 Maria Folau New Zealand New Zealand 2005–2019
7 146 Geva Mentor England England 2001–
8 138 Leana de Bruin South Africa South Africa (34)
New Zealand New Zealand (104)
9 137 Katrina Rore New Zealand New Zealand 2008–
10 127 Lesley MacDonald Scotland Scotland 1999–2014


  1. ^ "What does the term 'Cap' mean in sport?". Retrieved 13 January 2018.
  2. ^ "All Blacks century-makers: What it takes to crack 100". The New Zealand Herald. 9 October 2015.
  3. ^ "Steven Gerrard memorabilia to be exhibited at Anfield". Sky Sports. 15 May 2015.
  4. ^ "Don't tell anyone, but this is only Beckham's 85th cap". Reuters. Archived from the original on 30 March 2008. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  5. ^ Paul Weaver (21 November 2005). "Tale of injustice that prompted a son to shine". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  6. ^ Eddie Turnbull: Having a Ball, Eddie Turnbull, Martin Hannan; Random House, 2012, ISBN 9781780574684
  7. ^ Shades: The Short Life and Tragic Death of Erich Schaedler, Colin Leslie; Black & White Publishing, 2013, ISBN 9781845027308
  8. ^ "Regulations Governing International Matches" (PDF). Retrieved 28 August 2020.
  9. ^ "FIFA Century Club" (PDF). FIFA. Retrieved 9 June 2020.
  10. ^ "Individual Records". ESPN Cricinfo. 8 June 2020. Retrieved 8 June 2020.
  11. ^ "One-Day International Records". ESPN Cricinfo. Retrieved 4 August 2020.
  12. ^ "Player Records - Total Matches Played". ESPN Scum.
  13. ^ "RLIF to award 'golden caps'". Total Rugby League. Retrieved 11 June 2020.
  14. ^ "Mary Waya". LinkedIn Slide Share. Retrieved 8 July 2020.

External links[]

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