Cap (sport)

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Various international honours caps Misc Honours Caps.gif
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 rugby football and 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] [2]

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. [3] [4]

Association football

Some men's association football teams still award 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. [5] 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. [6] [7] [8]

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. [9]


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 Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal; he surpassed Bader Al-Mutawa with his 197th cap on 23 March 2023, before extending his record to 198 caps on 26 March 2023. 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 criterion 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.

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 Englishcounty 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 & 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 [14]
Most caps in men's rugby union
1166 Alun Wyn Jones Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg  Wales
British and Irish Lions flag with no Lion.svg  British & Irish Lions
2151 Sam Whitelock Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand 2010-
3148 Richie McCaw Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand 2001–2015
4142 Sergio Parisse Flag of Italy.svg  Italy 2002–2019
5141 Brian O'Driscoll IRFU flag.svg  Ireland
British and Irish Lions flag with no Lion.svg  British & Irish Lions
6139 George Gregan Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia 1994–2007
7134 Gethin Jenkins Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg  Wales
British and Irish Lions flag with no Lion.svg  British & Irish Lions
8132 Keven Mealamu Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand 2002–2015
9130 Ronan O'Gara IRFU flag.svg  Ireland
British and Irish Lions flag with no Lion.svg  British & Irish Lions
10129 Stephen Moore Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia 2005–2017
11127 Victor Matfield Flag of South Africa.svg  South Africa 2001–2015
Kieran Read Flag of New Zealand.svg  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. [15] The record for most caps is held by former Australian Kangaroos player and 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
159 Darren Lockyer Flag of Australia (converted).svg Australia 1998–2011
256 Cameron Smith Flag of Australia (converted).svg Australia 2006–2017
355 Ruben Wiki Flag of New Zealand.svg New Zealand 1994–2006
454 Jim Sullivan Flag of Wales (1807-1953).svg Wales
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Great Britain
Flag of England.svg England
553 James Graham Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Great Britain
Flag of England.svg England
Adrian Morley Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Great Britain
Flag of England.svg England
751 Adam Blair Flag of New Zealand.svg New Zealand 2006–2019
Petero Civoniceva Flag of Australia (converted).svg Australia
Flag of Fiji.svg Fiji
950 Mick Sullivan Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Great Britain
Flag of England.svg England
1047 Ryan Hall Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Great Britain
Flag of England.svg England
1146 Puig Aubert Flag of France.svg France 1946–1956
Gary Freeman Flag of New Zealand.svg New Zealand 1986–1996
Stacey Jones Flag of New Zealand.svg New Zealand 1995–2006
Mal Meninga Flag of Australia (converted).svg 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. [16]

Players still active at Test level are in bold type.

As of 7 July 2020
Most caps in women's international netball
1217 Irene van Dyk Flag of South Africa.svg South Africa (72)
Flag of New Zealand.svg New Zealand (145)
2205 Mary Waya Flag of Malawi.svg Malawi 1984–2014
3176 Jade Clarke Flag of England.svg England 2002–
4159 Nadine Bryan Flag of Jamaica.svg Jamaica 1997–
5151 Laura Langman Flag of New Zealand.svg New Zealand 2003–2020
6150 Maria Folau Flag of New Zealand.svg New Zealand 2005–2019
7146 Geva Mentor Flag of England.svg England 2001–
8138 Leana de Bruin Flag of South Africa.svg South Africa (34)
Flag of New Zealand.svg New Zealand (104)
9137 Katrina Rore Flag of New Zealand.svg New Zealand 2008–
10127Lesley MacDonald Flag of Scotland.svg Scotland 1999–2014

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