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Cap (sport)

Sports cap awarded to a Perth Academy schoolboy in Scotland during the season of 1930–1931

In sport, a cap is a metaphorical term for 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 prior to 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

As an example, the 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 only one cap, he received only his 85th physical cap.[4] In Scotland, for many years the practice was to only present caps 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]


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 former player Ahmed Hassan of Egypt; he surpassed Claudio Suárez with his 178th 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 of 1 July 2020[8]
Most caps in men's association football
Rank Caps Name Country Career
1 184 Ahmed Hassan  Egypt 1995–2012
2 179 Ahmed Mubarak  Oman 2003–2019
3 178 Mohamed Al-Deayea  Saudi Arabia 1993–2006
Bader Al-Mutawa  Kuwait 2003–2019
5 177 Claudio Suárez  Mexico 1992–2006
6 176 Gianluigi Buffon  Italy 1997–2018
7 170 Hossam Hassan  Egypt 1985–2006
Sergio Ramos  Spain 2005–2019
9 168 Iván Hurtado  Ecuador 1992–2014
Amer Shafi  Jordan 2002–2019


As of 8 June 2020
Most caps in women's association football
Rank Caps Name Country Career
1 354 Kristine Lilly  United States 1987–2010
2 311 Christie Pearce  United States 1997–2015
3 291 Christine Sinclair  Canada 2000–2020
4 290 Carli Lloyd  United States 2005–2020
5 276 Mia Hamm  United States 1987–2004
6 274 Julie Foudy  United States 1988–2004
7 255 Abby Wambach  United States 2001–2015
8 241 Joy Fawcett  United States 1987–2004
9 231 Heather O'Reilly  United States 2002–2016
10 219 Pu Wei  China PR 1997–2014


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 often not awarded automatically for every appearance made, rather at the discretion of the administrators of the club for whom the recipient plays. The most prevalent example of the latter system is in English county cricket, in which many First Class counties award a "county cap" to players.


As of March 2020, 67 players have won 100 or more caps in Test cricket. The most capped players are:

Players still active at Test level are in bold type.

As of 8 June 2020[9]
Most caps in men's test cricket
Rank Caps Name Country Career
1 200 Sachin Tendulkar India India 1989–2013
2 168 Ricky Ponting Australia Australia 1995–2012
Steve Waugh Australia Australia 1985–2004
4 166 Jacques Kallis South Africa South Africa
ICC World XI
5 164 Shivnarine Chanderpaul West Indies Cricket Board West Indies 1994–2015
Rahul Dravid India India
ICC World XI
7 161 Alastair Cook England England 2006–2018
8 156 Allan Border Australia Australia 1978–1994
9 151 James Anderson England England 2003–2020
10 149 Mahela Jayawardene Sri Lanka Sri Lanka 1997–2014
Notes ^ For South Africa, current cap numbers start from their readmission to Test cricket.

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[10]
Most caps in men's rugby union
Rank Caps Name Country Career
1 148 Richie McCaw  New Zealand 2001–2015
2 147 Alun Wyn Jones  Wales
 British and Irish Lions
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.[11] 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 Gary Freeman New Zealand New Zealand 1986–1996
Stacey Jones New Zealand New Zealand 1995–2006
Mal Meninga Australia Australia 1982–1994


  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. 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. ^ "FIFA Century Club" (PDF). FIFA. Retrieved 9 June 2020.
  9. ^ "Individual Records". ESPN Cricinfo. 8 June 2020. Retrieved 8 June 2020.
  10. ^ "Player Records". ESPN Scrum. 8 June 2020. Retrieved 8 June 2020.
  11. ^ "RLIF to award 'golden caps'". Total Rugby League. Retrieved 11 June 2020.

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