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'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.
Anime & Manga
- One Piece: Played exaggeratedly strait in the Groggy Ring, a soccer/wrestling match with weapons banned. The referee is a crew member from the enemy team. Guess what happens?
- 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.
- Blood Bowl referees 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 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.