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'Level playing field' too often means 'tilt'

By Ian Nance - posted Friday, 24 February 2012

The term "a level playing field" is an overused ubiquitous one which often attempts to justify not having a go!

The level playing field sometimes is a place inhabited by the less adventurous who want success without enduring the effort. No strain … no pain!

Why should the level playing field be a desirable goal for those who couldn't care less about obsequious notions of enforced equality, but just want to get on with whatever striving is needed?


If people have the ability, the determination, the confidence , or are just downright better than those who they are confronting, then it really doesn't matter a damn whether the "playing field" is level, or on the side of a steep hill – they'll win anyhow!

This increasing apology for inferiority refuses to recognise that some people are more competent and capable than others. Loud cries for a "fair go for all' are often an apologetic attempt to remove innate ability differences.

Life's just not like that.

No matter what you attempt, sometimes factors are balanced in your favour, sometimes totally against. This is when differences in personal or organisational ability determine the degree of success or failure in a particular endeavour.

As George Orwell wrote in his classic Animal Farm, "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

However, the mark of someone who deserves to win is sometimes a willingness to have a go despite the likelihood that things may not result exactly as wished. This comment does not attempt to argue why some one may deserve to win in the first place, but contest is certainly there, and must not be regulated out of existence by the mythical 'level playing field'.


The utterance seems to have expanded from a simple rule encouraging equality and balance, to a mindset of softer options for contest in any form; in other words, copping out. Now, it largely has become a metaphor for failure, inability, fear of not winning.

"Level playing field" is used sometimes in a sporting sense where it fails to note the unfortunate shift away from playing sport for the sheer fun and enjoyment of bettering one's personal standards, to that of an ego-driven craving for the team to win, sometimes at any cost. Victory is mandatory! Victory is business!

Would the trainer of a horse beaten by Black Caviar insist that her win was because the playing field wasn't level?

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About the Author

Ian Nance's media career began in radio drama production and news. He took up TV direction of news/current affairs, thence freelance television and film producing, directing and writing. He operated a program and commercial production company, later moving into advertising and marketing.

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