Game? What game?
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.
— Dave Barry
, "Wrestling's First Rule: Cover Your 'Masculine Region'"
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.
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.
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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. 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.
- 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. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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 Ren and Stimpy'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.