The power of football to provide hope and an escape from desperate situations is well documented and ought to supersede gender. Marbella “Mar” Ibarra recognised this power and saw no reason for women to lose out on its benefits simply because of their gender. Thus she devoted herself to the development and promotion of women’s football in Mexico, in doing so she became a revered pioneer of the sport. Given the scale of the change that Mar instigated it’s only right to celebrate all that she has accomplished in her life.
Football is a male-dominated environment the world over, especially so in Mexico, and so someone extremely passionate and driven was needed to lead the fight for women’s football; Mar encompassed these traits and so much more. Until fairly recently Mexico did not have a professional women’s football league and this was exactly what Mar set out to change. Mar’s first step towards that goal came in 2013 when she founded Isamar FC, an amateur women’s team based in Tijuana, Baja California. Tijuana, where Mar came to call home, suffers from high levels of violence and, for many, football provides the opportunity to escape from this violence on a daily basis. A year later and after much campaigning, Mar approached a professional men’s club to convert her amateur team into a professional squad as part of the club and was successful. Las Xolas de Tijuana was founded in 2014 as the first professional women’s team in Mexico with Mar as founder and Technical Director. The stage was set for the evolution of women’s football but there was still a lot of work to be done.
Infrastructure for teams to play competitively at a high level was lacking, with Mar forced to turn to the US for her team to play in tournaments and leagues. Then, in what can be described as one of Mar’s greatest legacies, the Liga MX Femenil was created in 2017. This was a huge achievement and the league continues to get bigger and better with every year but Mar didn’t stop there. Even though there now existed an environment for women to play professionally a lot of women still needed help and support in getting there. Institutions to bridge the gap between amateur and professional football were few and far between leaving many aspiring, talented players struggling to make their way to the top. As was the nature of Mar, she saw a problem and set out to fix it. It isn’t due to a lack of talent that thousands of women and girls are unable to play professionally but due to a lack of monetary resources or logistical support. She founded the organisation FutFem Sin Fronteras earlier this year to provide women and girls with resources and support to be able to play professionally. With the creation of this organisation Mar’s legacy will continue on for many generations and will touch the lives of numerous girls and women.
We may never know the reasons behind the killing of Marbella Ibarra but it’s safe to say that she lived to give hope and make the lives of other women better. Her fight was emblematic of global struggles for equality in sport and more widely for gender equality in Mexico. The mark she has made on women’s football is evident and the impact she will continue to have after her death will be felt for years to come. Women’s football owes a lot to Marbella Ibarra and the best way to honour her will be to never give up the fight and make sure she is never forgotten.