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Easily-Distracted Referee

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The ref has his head up the brass.

"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.

Can be averted or subverted, as Shuichi Nishinaga of Pro Wrestling NOAH once proved in a championship match: when the Heel attempted to fake the Face champion cheating, his applying of fake blood was noticed and pointed out by the guy reading pre-match officialese, and the referee actually rubbed it away as a result. Compare Glass Jaw Referee for when it's not the attention span that's the issue, it's the fragility.


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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 Wanna Be the Strongest in the World! 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.
  • Surprisingly enough for a wrestling series, it's surprisingly rare in Tiger Mask. In fact it happens only five times, one of which is manga only:
    • The first time is during the World Maskmen Championship, where the referee tends to miss when Tiger Mask is getting the upper hand. Justified in that this is another ploy from Tiger's Cave to kill Tiger Mask, with Mr. X himself serving as the referee-and Tiger Mask entering in spite of knowing exactly what he'd have to face because with the enormous prize money he could pay the surgery for a blind orphaned girl.
    • The other four times are when Tiger Mask first uses the Super Tiger Drop, when he first uses it at the All Asia Championship, when he first uses in public the Fujiyama Tiger Breaker (created after Mr. Question revealed to the world the surprisingly easy counter to the Super Tiger Drop), and, in the manga, when he first uses the Tiger V (created to defeat Miracle 3, who could counter the Fujiyama Tiger Breaker). All of them happen because the referee, like the public, is gawking in a mix of awe and horror at what Tiger Mask has just pulled... And he's never the first to react (with the Tiger V the first to react is Miracle 3's manager). Thankfully the foe is invariably completely knocked out, so Tiger Mask doesn't risk his victory, he just has to wait for the referee to call his victory.

    Comic Books 
  • Subverted in the Kaiju Big Battel "manga"; referee Jingi calls Dr. Cube about a recent title fight and reveals that he reviewed the tape and saw that Cube clearly cheated when he wasn't looking... and so the match was thrown out and the title vacated.
  • 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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!" To Prof. Browne's credit, he is trying to signal fouls and other violations, but the players are ignoring him.

  • 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).
  • Played with in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when the referee at the Quidditch World Cup is distracted (intentionally) by the Bulgarian National Team's mascots: a group of veela (sexy land-sirens who can hypnotize men by dancing). When brought to his senses by a literal kick to the shin, he threatens to eject the mascots from the game. The match commentator remarks how that has never happened before.
  • The Witch of Knightcharm: An evil Wizarding School forces its students to race in a brutal obstacle course for orientation. The protagonist Emily notices that her roommate Megumi is racing against an evil witch named Lucille, and that another member of Lucille's clique named Amira is hanging around the course exit. Sure enough, as soon as it looks like the elite students who are proctoring the competition are distracted by chatting amongst themselves, Amira attempts to cheat by attacking Megumi to help Lucille. This forces Emily to intervene and keep the match fair. However, the trope is subverted when it turns out the elites were paying attention all along, and Amira is harshly punished for attempting to cheat.


    Pro Wrestling 
  • 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.
  • In many Mexican promotions there are rudo (Heel) refs who are easily bribed into favoring the heel. Rudo refs are masters at "distracting" themselves in unconvincing ways — Tirantes Jr. has at times pretended to answer a cell phone call during a match to avoid counting a babyface's pin attempt.
  • As the runaway child of the Toryumon promotion that originated in Mexico, Dragon Gate "Tag Teams" usually bear 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 Machine Guns, causing enough of a distraction to allow the Addiction to cheat and retain their tag team title belts.
  • On WWC's 6-15-2019 show Xic Xavant tagged into to face Mighty Ursus or El Gran Armando four times. The referee missed three tags to Chicano and forced Xavant out while just assuming Armando and Ursus tagged while he wasn't looking.
  • Invoked and Played for Laughs by John Cena when he was a guest referee for a match between CM Punk and Wade Barrett, where the winner got their team (The New Nexus and The Corre respectively) into the Royal Rumble. Given his personal grudge against both men and having nothing to gain by helping either of them, he decided to exploit his role as much as possible, kicking out everyone at ringside, hitting both competitors before threatening to DQ them for hitting him back, signing autographs instead of counting pins, then just disqualifying both of them for...using profane language on a family show.
    • A similar example happened with Dean Ambrose, who wanting to piss off AJ Styles in his match with James Ellsworth, gets distracted over the most minor of things, from taking a phone call while Ellsworth is in earshot of tapping out to Styles' Calf Crusher, to flirting with female fans then not even bothering to count to 3 once Styles has Ellsworth pinned and the latter wasn't getting up.
    • Also invoked and Played for Laughs by The Rock when Vince McMahon set up a match between Triple H and British Bulldog with him as a special referee in one episode of SmackDown for the WWF Championship in 1999. Rock, who detested both men (he was Triple H's main rival at that time and Bulldog had screwed Rock out of the title before), decided that he would use this opportunity to play this trope to its fullest. At no point in the match did he try to give either Hunter or Bulldog a chance for the win, which was seen from the moment he assaulted Bulldog before Hunter even entered the ring. Then once the match started, the situation escalated as he was more interested in chatting with the fans, joining the commentary booth, and screwing both opponents as the match goes on. Highlights include Triple H connecting with the Pedigree, Rock clapping for him instead of counting the pin, hitting Triple H with the Rock Bottom when Hunter tried to retaliate, and then when Bulldog took the opportunity to pin Triple H:
      The Rock: "1... 2... IT DOESN'T MATTER IF THE ROCK COUNTS TO 3!!!"

    Tabletop Games 
  • Blood Bowl:
    • Referees are notoriously corrupt and/or kowtowed by the players or the fans and will only catch a player engaging in illegal behavior (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.
    • Referees in Blood Bowl actually have a union providing industry guidelines on the acceptable going rate for a bribe and when and how they are allowed to accept one. Bribing referees is that common a practice.
    • 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.

    Video Games 
  • Once per half, any team in Mutant Football League can bribe the ref. This works two ways: he'll ignore any major penalties your team commits (there aren't very many: pass interference, unnecessary manslaughter, and/or killing the QB before the snap), and he'll also call bogus penalties on your opponents if they score, make a big play, or get a turnover. If the ref has been bribed against you, you can either bribe him to your side or kill him and take a penalty from his replacement.

    Web Animation 
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • 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 was tagged by Arms Akimbo before he got on base, but umpire the Huntsman can't make a call because he was getting some "berry water" and didn't see the play.
    "Darn the luck! Darn!"
  • In the Pro Bending tournament in The Legend of Korra's first season, the ref has been bribed to call everything in favor of the Wolf Bats, who are blatantly cheating. The crowd, the radio announcer, and even Tenzin all call him on it. This is because Hiroshi Sato, who sponsored Korra's team, wants them to lose as part of a plot by the Equalists.