It takes a special type of person to be a professional-wrestling referee, the type of person who, if he had been present when the Hindenburg was being consumed by a giant ball of flame, would have been looking, with intense interest, at the ground.It's a well-known fact that Professional Wrestling referees have the shortest attention spans of any creature in the known multiverse (along with being allergic to contact). They can be distracted by anything; from an argumentative manager, to a pretty girl dancing at ringside, to a turnbuckle pad that appears to be loose, to a particularly shiny object. Wrestling villains often take advantage of the ref's attention deficit, causing distractions and using the opportunity to use illegal tactics (chokes, eye gouges, weapons, etc.) or, in a Tag Team match, to prevent the Ricky Morton from tagging out to his partner. The rule is: if the ref didn't see it, it didn't happen, and it's Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught. Referees also tend to get distracted just as the face gets a pin on the heel, or just as the heel submits to the face's hold. They also get distracted by the face's Tag Team partner, just long enough for the heel tag team to execute some dreadful manuever or drag the hapless face back to their corner. Can be averted or subverted, as Shuichi Nishinaga of Pro Wrestling NOAH once proved in a championship match: when the Heel's attempt to fake the Face champion cheating, his applying of fake blood was noticed by the guy reading pre-match officialese who pointed it out and the referee actually rubbed it away as a result.
— Dave Barry, "Wrestling's First Rule: Cover Your 'Masculine Region'"
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Anime & Manga
- One Piece: Appears with aplomb in the Groggy Ring, a soccer/wrestling match with weapons banned. The referee is a crew member from the enemy team. Guess what happens? Eventually, Nami realizes that, if the bad guys can invoke this trope, so can she, and she ends up using this trope against them.
- One of the later games in the anime version of the Davy Back arc inverts this, with a team of attentive refs impartially enforcing all of the "Hit and Dead Ball" game's hundreds of rules (it helps that they are enforcing the rules on pain of death). This is still to the villain team's advantage, because Luffy and his team don't know the rules of the game and end up committing penalty after penalty.
- The referee in Hajime no Ippo seems to be all but blind when it comes to cheating. Blatant dirty maneuvers like headbutting, stepping on the opponent's foot or punching with your elbows never ever get counted as fouls; they are considered "accidents" at the most. Miyata and Itagaki both lose matches they were largely dominating because of that.
- In Sekai de Ichiban Tsuyoku Naritai! episode 11, Sakura pins her opponent, and the referee just stands there gawking until Sakura reminds her that she's supposed to count the pinfall. The commentator even mentions that if she'd started counting immediately, the match may well have been over.
- During the 21st Tenkaichi Budokai in Dragon Ball, the Combat Commentator rants about Jackie Chun (Muten Roshi) destroying the moon instead of counting down the sleeping Son Goku who turns out to be well alive. The match would have ended earlier if that didn't happen.
- There are also other moments where the commentator gets surprised or shocked by certain events, to the point that other people have to remind him to go on.
- Subverted in the Kaiju Big Battel "manga"; referee Jingi calls Dr. Cube about a recent title fight and reveals that he reviewed the tape, saw that Cube clearly cheated when he wasn't looking, and that the match has been declared a draw with the title now vacant. In actual KBB shows, Jingi plays the trope straight, though.
- In Super Pro KO, Jumbo and Jet Richter do a variation on the "other tag team member enters the ring while the ref is distracted" trick; when Jumbo is caught in a submission hold and the match is on the line, Jet attempting to enter the ring to help his brother is itself the distraction. While the ref tries to get Jet back behind the ropes, the team's manager Elicity sneaks into the ring and attacks Jumbo's opponent.
- In The Internship Graham distracts the referee by injuring his own teamate before blatantly cheating through the tiebreaker round.
- Comically played up in sports movie spoof The Comebacks, where the ref in the championship game has been paid off by the other team. Naturally, he never seems to catch the bad guys' ridiculously dirty, violent play. At one point he innocently whistles while wearing sunglasses and holding a white cane like a blind man.
- It appears in the first Bring It On movie, when a cheerleader deliberately distracts the referee by bending over in her extremely short skirt.
- In Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Professor Browne volunteers to ref the soccer game on the Island of Naboombu, but becomes easily distracted because many animals, including the lion (perhaps especially the lion), are playing unfairly. One of the boys even yells out "Ref, are you blind?" and gets reprimanded by Miss Price with "Don't forget who the referee is!"
- Unseen Academicals sees the game of foot-the-ball assuming great importance in Ankh-Morpork. In a grudge match attended by tens of thousands of people, a team of wizards takes on a representative City team - composed of the hardest cloggers, foulers and dirty players in the game. It does not help that the referee is a wheezing thirty stone (350 pound) wizard who is un-used to too much physical exertion, and the forces of evil manage to pull many dirty tricks on the fly (from poisoning the wizards' goalie to breaking the legs of their star player).
- In Harlem Globetrotters On Tour, one of the Globetrotters blinds a referee by throwing a bucket of water in his face.
- Of course the trope naming sport does have its fair share of subversions, aversions and many other instances where the trope was played with. Take Stevie Wonderful, who is not easily distracted, but because he's blind he doesn't need to be.
- Taken to a ludicrous extreme at a 2006 CMLL event, where Perro Aguayo Jr, blatantly cheating right in front of the referee, was able to distract him by pointing at a fight outside of the ring between two other wrestlers not even in the match, the ref taking it upon himself to break it up rather than let security handle it or something, while Aguayo kept cheating uninterrupted.
- As the runaway child of the Toryumon promotion that originated in Mexico, Dragon Gate "Tag Team" usually bare a closer resemblance to Mexican style parejas where tags are not strictly necessary. For the special "Gate Of Heaven", where tags are necessary, two referees will be deployed in an attempt to defy this trope and ensure teams don't cheat.
- At the 2016 Best In The World Kamaitachi allowed The Addiction to pay tribute to Aguayo Jr by picking a fight with Jay White during their match with The Motor City Machined Guns, causing enough of a distraction to allow the Addiction to cheat and retain their tag team title belts.
- Blood Bowl referees are notoriously corrupt and/or kowtowed by the players or the fans and will only catch a player engaging in illegal behaviour (i.e. Kick Them While They Are Down) one in six times, and will only notice the use of unsanctioned foreign objects (like chainsaws, bombs, or steamrollers) at the end of a drive no matter how often (or how successfully) you've been using them during that drive. Throwing in a nice bribe adds an additional level of safety as the ref has a five out of six chance of ignoring any successful spotting of anything illegal.
- In the video game adaptation, it is much worse, since the Ref is actually a little goblin that stands on the field, and can miss fouls done by Minotaurs, Ogres, or even TREES that he is looking directly at. Then again, if you were a goblin, would YOU want to interrupt the play for a foul done by someone eight times your size who hurts people for a living?
- Dreadball technically has two Refs - one on the pitch and one monitoring from a camera drone floating above the pitch known as the "Eye In The Sky". It somewhat averts this trope by having actual Ref Check rolls being more about whether the foul is actually spotted among the confusion or not (they're not going to consult a recording due to the game being too fast to stop for that). Part of it could also be because the Co-Prosperity Sphere is capitalist to the extreme and the fans love it when a player puts the boot in. Players can actively distract the on-the-pitch Ref with an action, but unless they succeed by a considerable margin then there's a chance that player will be sent off. How this works when the Ref model in the base set is depicted as a robot with literal eyes in the back of her head is never directly explained.
- In "The Strongest Man in the World", a remake of the original Homestar Runner book, the Announcer and the Grape Fairy are too busy admiring the trophy, so they don't notice Strong Bad's obvious cheating.
- In Wakfu, bribing the referees is part of the grand tradition of Gobbowl; so much so that the audience boos the team that isn't cheating.
- Played for laughs in The Ren & Stimpy Show's wrestling match versus the Lout Brothers in "Mad Dog Hoek."
- A heroes-villains baseball game is briefly featured in one Freakazoid! episode; there's some dispute among the players about whether Freakazoid tagged Arms Akimbo before he got on base, but umpire the Huntsman can't make a call because he was getting some water and didn't see the play.