Marbella Ibarra, pioneering figure in Latin American women’s soccer, found beaten to death

She was a gifted athlete, a pioneer for women’s soccer in Latin America, and a dedicated mentor to young women throughout her country. Now, however, Marbella Ibarra, founder and head coach of the Las Xolos professional women’s soccer team, is dead.

Ibarra, 46, was found beaten to death after disappearing over a month ago under mysterious circumstances. Her remains were discovered on Sunday, covered with a blanket in the resort town of Rosarito, which is just south of the border city of Tijuana, Mexico.

No motive

José Manuel Yépiz, a spokesman for the Baja California state attorney general’s office, described how Ibarra was discovered with her hands and legs bound and with significant bruising around her face and neck.

Mr. Yépiz said that Ibarra’s family reported her missing on Sept. 18, and so far investigators have not established a motive for her murder or determined the circumstances surrounded her disappearance.

Ibarra was buried on Thursday, after her remains were finally reunited with her grieving family. News of the soccer icon’s passing elicited an outpouring of condolences from both collegiate and professional players whom Ibarra impacted.

“You were, are and will be the best coach I ever had,” wrote Tigres UANL forward Carolina Jaramillo, who is also a member of Mexico’s national team, on Twitter. “Rest in peace, I love you Mar.”

“Save a little piece of heaven for me,” wrote Las Xolos midfielder Inglis Hernandez. “Some day we’ll lift this cup again together.”

“She was always somebody who wanted to help those who had less,” said Rafael González Martínez, a sports editor for the local weekly Zeta publication. “She was always attentive, always supportive — with lunch, uniforms, cleats, balls. She was very passionate for her sport.”

Pioneering athlete

Ibarra’s rise to prominence began in Tijuana, where she studied law in college and played on the university team. After graduating, she remained at the school to coach players as an assistant before taking the head coaching job a few years later.

Ibarra founded an amateur women’s soccer team and named it after her family’s beauty salon, Isamar FC. While her success at scouting talent captured the attention of a coach representing the women’s national under-20 team, Ibarra’s true ambition was to start a professional women’s soccer league.

Just four years ago, she realized this ambition, convincing the Club Tijuana men’s team to establish a professional women’s team, known as Las Xolos. Ibarra coached the team as it competed in the U.S. Women’s Premier Soccer League, leaving just as her goal was realized with the establishment of Liga MX Feminil, Mexico’s own women’s league.

Giving back

Ibarra was exceptionally generous with her time, and when she wasn’t busy developing young women’s careers as athletes and scholars, her foundation, Ellas Juegan, or “The Girls Play,” occupied her attention.

Ibarra called the foundation “a long-sought project that with which she would achieve her professional growth.” Ellas Juegan provided support and assistance to young women athletes, a cause to which Ibarra dedicated her life.  

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So far, police maintain that the coach’s athletic career has nothing to do with her death or disappearance.

Terrorized by drug cartel violence, Tijuana has become one of the deadliest cities in the world in recent years, with an 84 percent rise in homicides between 2016 and 2017. As of September 2018, 1,789 homicides had already been recorded, surpassing 2017’s record.

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