level playing field

Meaning 1
level or flat playing field is important so that the play is fair.
Sentence 1
We need a level playing field for soccer, so one team does not have to run uphill.
Meaning 2
to be fair, to be equal
Sentence 2
They had more troops. We bombed them, so we had a level playing field before we sent in our troops.


The idiom above, used in the Gulf War of 1990 refers to equalizing the numbers of ground troops rather than a level area for men to fight. In this case, the idiom is so far removed from its literal meaning of a flat or level field it becomes rather confusing.