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In sport, a cap is a metaphorical term for a player's appearance on a select team, such as a national team. The term dates from the practice in the United Kingdom of awarding a cap (an item of headgear) 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. "Cap" is not an acronym for Country Appearance.
An early illustration of the first international football match between England and Scotland 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.
The act of awarding a cap is now international and is applied to other sports. Actual caps are not always given anymore, but the term "cap" for an international or other appearance has been retained. 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.
Association football 
The world record holder for the highest number of international caps as of 24 January 2006 is retired American football player Kristine Lilly, who has over 350 caps in women's association football. In men's association football, the record belongs to active player Ahmed Hassan of Egypt; he surpassed Mohamed Al-Deayea 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.
FIFA rules state that any club that refuses to release a player for national team duty is barred from using the player for two matches, a rule which is intended to discourage clubs from pretending that the player is injured. However, it is a player's choice to refuse to play for and/or retire from their national team. Thus, Claude Makélélé had willingly accepted the call-up to the national team for the Euro 2008 qualifiers and was not forced by national coach Raymond Domenech, contrary to Chelsea manager José Mourinho's assertion that Domenech was treating Makélélé like a slave and refusing to honor his retirement. In the same qualification tournament, Ruud van Nistelrooy had refused a call-up request from national manager Marco van Basten.
Some current leading holders of association football caps (men as of 5 August 2011, women as of 23 January 2012) are:
- 184 – Ahmed Hassan, Egypt
- 178 – Mohamed Al-Deayea, Saudi Arabia
- 178 – Claudio Suárez, Mexico
- 169 – Hossam Hassan, Egypt
- 167 – Iván Hurtado, Ecuador
- 167 – Vitālijs Astafjevs, Latvia
- 164 – Cobi Jones, United States
- 164 – Adnan Al-Talyani, United Arab Emirates
- 158 – Sami Al-Jaber, Saudi Arabia
- 157 – Martin Reim, Estonia
Bold denotes players currently active in international football.
- 352 – Kristine Lilly, United States World record holder
- 276 – Christie Rampone, United States
- 275 – Mia Hamm, United States
- 272 – Julie Foudy, United States
- 239 – Joy Fawcett, United States
- 208 – Birgit Prinz, Germany
- 204 – Tiffeny Milbrett, United States
- 201 – Kate Markgraf, United States
- 201 – Pu Wei, China
- 200 – Li Jie, China
- 200 - Abby Wambach, United States
- 199 - Katrine Pedersen, Denmark
- 192 – Brandi Chastain, United States
- 192 – Fan Yunjie, China
Bold denotes players currently active in international football.
In cricket, there are two types of caps. Firstly, there is the international type, as described above. Some countries also award a domestic type generally known as a "county cap". The latter system is most commonly applied in English county cricket. Most counties do not automatically award caps to players on their first appearance; instead, they have to be "earned" through good performances. Indeed, one can play at the highest domestic level for several years, and have a quite significant career in first-class cricket, without ever winning a cap.
The world record for the number of caps in Test cricket is held by Sachin Tendulkar of India, who has, over the course of a 22-year career, collected 198, as of March 2013. Tendulkar also holds the record for One Day Internationals, with 463 caps.
In rugby union, 20 players have reached 100 international caps as of 5 June 2012. 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 65 caps).
Players still active at Test level are in bold type.
- George Gregan, Australia — 139
- Brian O'Driscoll, Ireland — 130 (124 for Ireland, 6 for the British and Irish Lions)
- Ronan O'Gara, Ireland — 130 (128 for Ireland, 2 for the British and Irish Lions)
- Jason Leonard, England — 119 (114 for England, 5 for the British and Irish Lions)
- Fabien Pelous, France — 118
- Nathan Sharpe, Australia — 118
- Richie McCaw, New Zealand — 113
- Philippe Sella, France — 111
- John Smit, South Africa — 111
- Stephen Jones, Wales – 110 (104 for Wales, 6 for the British and Irish Lions)
- Victor Matfield, South Africa – 110
- George Smith, Australia — 110
- Chris Paterson, Scotland — 109
- John Hayes, Ireland — 107 (105 for Ireland, 2 for the British and Irish Lions)
- Martyn Williams, Wales — 104 (100 for Wales, 4 for the British and Irish Lions)
- Gareth Thomas, Wales — 103 (100 for Wales, 3 for the British and Irish Lions)
- Andrea Lo Cicero, Italy — 103
- Stephen Larkham, Australia — 102
- Percy Montgomery, South Africa — 102
- David Campese, Australia — 101
- Alessandro Troncon, Italy — 101
- Mils Muliaina, New Zealand — 100
- Keven Mealamu, New Zealand — 100
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